One gets the feeling that the tournament in Rome has already ended. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal who, between the two of them, have won this tournament the last eleven years (2005-2015) have already played the most anticipated match of the week and with all due respect to the other 3 semifinalists (2 of them have never won a Masters 1000), it looks very unlikely that the trend will change this year.
As for the match itself, Rafael Nadal summoned his best form, in nearly 2 years, against Djokovic and the World No.1 continued his relatively shaky clay court form (as opposed to the beat downs he has handed down to the ATP tour the last 18 months or so) and they contrived to produce a “competitive” match. The Serbian recorded his 7th consecutive victory over the greatest clay court player of all time. Djokovic won 7-5, 7-6(4) and extended his domination of the Spanish No.1 to 15 straight sets.
Nadal, presently in his best tennis form since 2014 clay court season, was up a break in both the sets, but was unable to drive home the advantage and put an end to his losing streak against the Serbian No.1. Djokovic’s mental hold on Nadal was highlighted in the 10th game of the second set – when Nadal, serving for the match had 5 set points but could not close the deal.
Djokovic, for his part, produced some imperious tennis when he was really up against it and by his lofty standards, had patches of very mortal like tennis. The 14 slam champion seized up those opportunities to ratchet up the pressure on Djokovic, but Djokovic ensured that he stepped up to the plate in the nick of time to prevent Nadal from consolidating his position of strength.
Djokovic, as mentioned above, gets a place in the semifinals as opposed to the titles that most of his victories over Nadal tend to generate. He will be facing fellow Uniqlo family member Kei Nishikori in the penultimate round. Nishikori ousted the youngster Dominic Thiem in a fairly routine straight set match 6-3, 7-5.
Thiem showed glimpses of the impressive talent he possesses but could not sustain it long enough to make substantial damage in the match. Nishikori was on top of his game and once he overcame Thiem’s early flourish, he was able to keep the match in his grasp and hit the right gear at the right moments to make sure Thiem doesn’t find his way into the match.
The other semifinal will see the World No.3 Murray try to ensure that he can drive home the advantage of a relatively fortunate draw that seems to get better with every round. Murray took David Goffin out with quite a commanding performance. Goffin, who was coming off a double bagel that he served Tomas Berdych, was served a bread stick set (6-1) by Murray to start the proceedings.
Goffin put up a better show in the second set, but it was a case of too little too late for the Belgian – whose persistence and determination are admired by tennis fans all over the world. Murray won the quarterfinal showdown 6-1, 7-5.
His opponent in the semifinal will be the relatively inexperienced Lucas Pouille, who was the beneficiary of a last minute withdrawal from Juan Monaco. Pouille was a lucky loser who found his place in the maindraw due to Tsonga’s withdrawal. The young man from France has used this lucky break to earn himself his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final.
It would be a safe bet to forecast a Djokovic-Murray showdown for a second Masters 1000 in a row. Kei Nishikori will have much to say about that, however it will take Nishikori his supreme best tennis to prevent Djokovic from the final. Lucas Pouille will have his task similarly cut out against the other Big 4 member, Andy Murray.