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Semifinal bound: Nadal, Pliskova, Opelka and Martic beat Rome rain
On Friday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, nine-time men’s titlist Nadal shook off an early tumble on court to end his recent woes against Alexander Zverev, while 2019 women’s winner Pliskova staved off three match points to edge Jelena Ostapenko.
May 14, 2021
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Half of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia semifinalists, including former champions Rafael Nadal and Karolina Pliskova, got into the locker rooms Friday before rain suspended play at the Foro Italico.
Nine-time titlist Nadal shook off an early tumble on court to end his recent woes against Alexander Zverev, 6-3, 6-4. The German beat Nadal last week in the Madrid quarterfinals on his way to winning the event for the second time, but the stark difference in conditions and altitude played into the left-hander’s favor today.
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Zverev won just 10 of 24 points when he came into net, while Nadal saved nine of the 10 break points he faced to end a three-match losing streak to the 24-year-old.
“It’s a completely different match here than Madrid. I know it,” Nadal told press afterwards. “I have been playing in Madrid for such a long time, and I know how difficult is to control the ball. Especially against players who serve that well and who are aggressive. Here, [the] situation is a little bit different. Still a very difficult match because he’s a fantastic player. He likes to play here. He already won the tournament here.
“But I was able to play much more solid than last week. I think I did a lot of things well today. I was able to change more the rhythm of the ball on the point. A positive match for me.”
For a place in Sunday’s championship match, Nadal will meet an unexpected opponent: Reilly Opelka.
The American reached his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal by eliminating Federico Delbonis, 7-5, 7-6 (2). Opelka fired 18 aces and is now projected to return to the Top 35 as a result of his run. An upset over Nadal would vault him inside the Top 30 for the first time.
There’s something about Rome and Pliskova. The former world No. 1 won this trophy in 2019; last year, when the event was pushed back to September, finished runner-up to Simona Halep. Pliskova is now one win away from contesting her third straight final at Foro after escaping Jelena Ostapenko, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (1). In the deciding set, the No. 9 seed saved three match points (at 4-5, 15-40, and later ad-out) before running away with a final set tiebreaker—one she reached on the unlikeliest of let cords.
Pliskova’s semifinal opponent? Petra Martic. The Croatian ended Jessica Pegula’s bid with a 7-5, 6-4 victory. This has been a much-needed boost for Martic, having entered Rome just 4-8 on the year. In 2020, she reached a career-high No. 14 but has slipped to No. 25. The 30-year-old ousted Pliskova in the third round of Roland Garros two years ago, though the Czech later avenged that defeat in the 2019 Zhengzhou final.
When play was halted, Monte Carlo winner Stefanos Tsitsipas led defending champion Novak Djokovic by a break, 4-3, and WTA No. 1 Ashleigh Barty was even at 2-2 in her first set with 17-year-old Coco Gauff.