Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal overcame slow starts but came back strongly to set up an eagerly awaited 51st meeting between them as they advanced to the Semi-final at the Foro Italico in Rome. The other Semi-final will be between the defending champion Alexander Zverev who is on a fifteen match winning streak, and the Croat Marin Cilic who assured himself of number four ranking ahead of the slumping Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.
First on court was the seven time champion Rafael Nadal against the local favourite Fabio Fognini. The unseeded Italian had beaten Nadal three times in their previous thirteen meetings, including twice on clay in 2015, and it was little surprise he took the first set 6-4. Nadal fought back gallantly on his most favoured surface as the fiery Italian’s game level dropped significantly. Nadal raced through the next two sets with two service breaks in each set, claiming the two hour fourteen minute encounter 4-6,6-1,6-2.
Meanwhile, in the second match of the afternoon which was played on outside court, Marin Cilic entered his first Master’s series Semi-final on clay with a convincing 6-3,6-3 win over the other Spaniard remaining in the draw, the tenth seeded Pablo Carreno Busta. Cillic broke for s 4-2 lead and clinched the 31 minute opening set in which he lost only 4 points on 24 first serves.
He would break in the first game of the second set and then again in the ninth game to seal the match in just 66 minutes. Cilic won his only Master’s series title to date at the Western and Southern Master’s in Cincinnati 2016, and his only grand slam title at the U.S. Open 2014.
Novak Djokovic, the former world number one and a four time champion in Rome was playing Japan’s Kei Nishikori for the second time in as many weeks having beaten the 24th ranked Nishikori in Madrid last week. Djokovic dropped the opening set 2-6, but like Nadal came back strongly to claim the next two sets, winning the two hour and twenty one minute long encounter 2-6,6-1,6-3. Djokovic who lost in the final to Zverev last year year needed to reach atleast the third round to ensure a seeding at Roland Garros starting May 27th. He also improves to 13-2 against Nishikori in their career head to head.
The red hot German Alexander Zverev who is bidding to win his third title in as many weeks having won the ATP 250 event in Munich and then claiming his third Master’s series title in Madrid last week, overcame the gallant David Goffin of Belgium in one hour and 47 minutes to win 6-4,3-6,6-3 in the last match on Friday played in the evening session.
The 21 year old German had won 23 consecutive sets before dropping the second set to Goffin. Last year Zverev won his maiden Master’s series title in Rome beating Novak Djokovic and then prevailed at the Roger’s Cup in Montreal beating Roger Federer. He now faces Cilic in the second semi final on Saturday while Nadal and Djokovic play in the afternoon session.
Following is the line up of the last four with my pick mentioned first:-
Rafael Nadal (1) (21-2) v. Novak Djokovic (11) (10-6); Djokovic leads 26-24
Alexander Zverev (2) (30-7) v. Marin Cilic (4) (18-7) ; Zverev leads 4-1.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: sportzcosmos@]