Top seeded Novak Djokovic saved two match points to defeat the Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro to reach the semi-finals of the Italian Open at the Foro Italico in Rome on early Saturday morning. The four-time Rome champion led 5-2 in the second set after dropping the opener, but had to erase two match points in the second set tie-break including one on Del Potro’s serve. He stays on course for a final showdown against the eight time Rome champion Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay who won his third 6-0 set in as many matches enroute to his win over fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
After the withdrawal of the third seeded Roger Federer due to a leg injury he sustained in his sensational win over the Croat Borna Coric, the only real entertainment of the day was provided in the last Quarter-final of the day played in the evening session which ended past 1AM local time on Saturday. Del Potro playing in only his third tournament of the year got the break of serve in the seventh game of the opening set and erased all six break points faced in the first set, including three while serving it out at 5-4. The Argentine ripped a backhand winner down the line to take the set 6-4.
The Serb got the first break in the sixth game of the second set but Del Potro broke back in the ninth game when Djokovic tossed in a loose game trying to serve out the set at 5-3. Del Potro then missed a forehand on his first match point at 6-4 in the tie-break as Djokovic reeled of four consecutive points to force the decider. Once Djokovic broke serve in the fifth game, he never faced a break point and took the match 4-6,7-6(6), 6-4 in three hours and one minute.
He will, next play, another Argentine Diego Schwartzman in the semi-final after the 26 year old from Buenos Aires took advantage of Kei Nishikori’s weariness beating the sixth seed from Japan 6-4,6-2. Nishikori who required three sets to beat the German Jan-Lennard Struff after beating Taylor Fritz on double duty Thursday could only offer token resistance to the 24th ranked Schwartzman, ranked a career high eleventh last year. Schwartzman also beat the hometown favourite Matteo Berrettini, a wildcard entry, now ranked 33rd in the world after his maiden title in Budapest last month.
The eight Rome champion Nadal, got off to a slow start against Verdasco, but once Verdasco missed three break point chances in the ninth game, the second seed won eight consecutive games to win 6-4,6-0 and extended his record to 17-3 against the 35 year old Verdasco.
It is only the first time in his career that Nadal has won a set 6-0 in three straight matches in his 1,135-match career. Doing double duty on Thursday following the complete washout on Wednesday, Nadal first beat the Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-0,6-1 and then the Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1,6-0. That sets up a rematch of last Saturday’s semi-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, a chance for Nadal to avenge the loss. The Eleven time Roland Garros champion is still searching for his first title in 2019 and has lost in all three clay court tournaments this year.
Verdasco had beaten Dominic Thiem, the Barcelona champion and then Karen Khachanov in three sets on Thursday and ran out of gas in the second set against his rampaging opponent. Tsitsipas got a free passage in the last four following Federer’s withdrawal. He accounted for two local favourites, wildcard Jannik Sinner and then the Monte Carlo champion Fabio Fognini in the previous rounds.
The following is the semi-final line up with my pick mentioned first :-
Novak Djokovic (1) (22-4) v. Diego Schwartzman (-) (18-12); Djokovic leads 2-0
Rafael Nadal (2) (23-5) Stefanos Tsitsipas (7) (29-10); Nadal leads 3-1.