Juan Martin del Potro had Novak Djokovic dead to rights late Friday night in Rome, but the big Argentine just couldn’t finish the job.
After coming from a 2-5 hole, del Potro forced a second set breaker and held a 6-4 lead with a match point on his racquet. But a mishit off a short forehand nullified one and then with Djokovic serving, a delicately placed dropped shot saved the other. Djokovic won the last four points on the breaker then staved off an early charge in the third to get a tough 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 in just over three hours.
“I never lost faith I could come back to the match. One break of serve, mini break in the tie-break when he was 6-4, more or less open forehand that he was making the entire match, that’s all it took for me to come back,” Djokovic said. “[He] missed a couple crucial points in the tiebreak. Also break point third set, quite easy forehand. That’s what happens. That’s sport. I’m just really pleased to overcome.”
Despite a long day yesterday, del Potro looked fit and was hitting the ball well. But just came up short on those match points.
Djokovic, who won two matches on Thursday, will now meet another Argentine, the surprising Diego Schwartzman in the semifinals. The diminutive Schwartzman collected his first Top 6 win (erasing an 0-15 mark) and scored a first victory over Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-2 to reach his first Masters semifinal.
“It’s great for me, being in my first Masters 1000 quarterfinal,” said Schwartzman. “I’m very happy about today, beating Nishikori. He’s a great player in these kind of conditions, in Rome, on clay. I’m really happy and I will now focus on tomorrow.”
Nishikori was 3-0 against Schwartzman until today. But after two tough matches yesterday, the Japanese was at his best.
“He was playing good,” said Nishikori. “That’s for sure. Credit to him, that he was able to maintain his level first set and second set. Maybe he dropped his level from 5-0. If I could get the 5-4 game, maybe things could change. But he was playing aggressive, hitting good backhands and forehands, too. He came in very well. He was playing a little bit little more aggressive.”
While Roger Federer withdrew due to a right leg problem, Rafael Nadal took the court and just like Thursday’s demolitions, this one also didn’t take long. Nadal was down a break early but then crushed countryman Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-0.
The 6-0 set was Nadal’s third in his last three matches, a record streak for him in his career.
“He was playing great, being honest. I was not playing bad at the beginning at all. But he was playing unbelievable. No mistakes, a lot of winners, taking the ball early. Was a very difficult first set,” Nadal said. “I think I had a good feelings during the whole match. Then after winning that first set, in the second… of course he slows down a little bit, but I was able to play a little bit more aggressive with the forehand. I did a lot of things well this afternoon.”
Into his 71st career Masters semifinal, Nadal will now seek his first clay final of the year against the man who beat him last week in Madrid, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“What happened, I know. The solution, I know. The execution is not easy,” Nadal said of the Greek. “The theory is always easy, but the execution is much more difficult. Tennis is a simple sport. After a lot of years here, I know what happened last week, and I going to try to do it better tomorrow.”
Djokovic leads Schwartzman 2-0. Nadal is up on Tsitsipas 3-1.
After two nice days of weather, rain is forecasted to return this weekend.
SATURDAY ROME SCHEDULE
Centrale 12:00 Noon
SF 6 Kiki Bertens v Johanna Konta
Not Before 2:30 Pm
SF 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas v Rafael Nadal
Not Before 5:00 Pm
SF 4 Karolina Pliskova v (Q) Maria Sakkari
Not Before 8:00 Pm
SF 1 Novak Djokovic v Diego Schwartzman
SF 1 Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo v 3 Juan Sebastian Cabal-Robert Farah
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