Rafael Nadal ended a run of three straight losses to Alexander Zverev with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win over the German on Friday to reach the Italian Open semifinals.
Zverev had beaten Nadal in straight sets at the same stage in Madrid a week ago, but their latest meeting went the Spaniard’s way from the start.
Aiming for a record-extending 10th Rome title, Nadal raced to a 4-0 lead in the first set and saved all eight break points he faced in the second.
“I played more solid than Madrid. Conditions are different,” Nadal said, alluding to the fact that the high altitude of the Spanish capital allowed Zverev to dominate more with his serve. “Here are a little bit more normal conditions. I was able to control a little bit more.”
It was a stark contrast from Nadal’s long three-set comeback win over Denis Shapovalov a day earlier when the Spaniard saved two match points.
Nadal’s semifinal opponent will be big-serving American Reilly Opelka, who reached his first Masters semifinal with a 7-5, 7-6 (2) win over Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis.
The only real moment of concern for Nadal came when he tripped over the service line while running down a drop shot when he was serving for the first set.
The crowd of about 2,500 let out a collective gasp as Nadal tumbled onto the clay and rolled over onto his back wincing in apparent pain.
After putting Nadal’s reply away for an easy winner — the Spaniard still managed to get the ball over the net — Zverev hopped over the net to check on the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
Nadal got up, though, dusted himself off and served out the set with his back and even headband still covered in clay.
“Some lines are higher than the rest of court, so when you touch the line it’s dangerous,” Nadal said.
Zverev, the 2017 Rome champion and winner of the trophy in Madrid last weekend, had numerous opportunities to recover from an early break in the second set but Nadal stepped up his game each time and closed it out on his first match point with a perfectly executed serve-and-volley.
“I played a very solid match, with not too many mistakes — playing the way that I have to,” Nadal said. “It’s an important victory for me against a great player.”
In the women’s tournament, 2019 Rome champion Karolina Pliskova rallied past 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (1) to set up a semifinal against Petra Martic. Martic eliminated Jessica Pegula 7-5, 6-4 for her biggest result since recently hiring former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone as her coach.