Rome Masters: Rafael Nadal gains revenge over Alexander Zverev to stay on track for 10th title
Rafael Nadal gains revenge over Alexander Zverev to reach the semi-finals of the Rome Masters where he will play the big-serving Reilly Opelka; Karolina Pliskova sets up a meeting with Petra Martic after both players came through their quarter-finals, while Ashleigh Barty retired injured
Last Updated: 16/05/21 11:59am
Rafael Nadal made it through to his 75th Masters 1000 semi-final by gaining revenge over Alexander Zverev to stay on track for his 10th Rome title.
The Spaniard needed nearly three-and-a-half hours to defeat Denis Shapovalov in the third round on Thursday, saving two match points, and backed it up brilliantly with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Zverev.
The German had won his last three meetings with Nadal, including in the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open last week, but saw his opportunities consistently snuffed out.
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In a reversal of his fortunes against Shapovalov, Nadal surged into a 4-0 lead before Zverev gained a foothold in the contest and made things tight.
There was a worrying moment for Nadal when he caught his foot on the service line sliding to the ball and fell heavily, but he recovered quickly to serve out the set.
The second set was one of the best of the tournament, with the pair engaging in lung-busting rallies, but a single break of serve ultimately proved the difference as Nadal saved all eight break points he faced.
"Today I played much better than yesterday," said the second seed. "I did a lot of things well, playing much more solid. I think I played one of the more solid matches on clay this year against a very tough opponent. It's a great victory for me.
"Under pressure, under tough moments that sometimes I lost important points the last couple of weeks, today, yesterday, before yesterday too, I was able to manage it well. To hold well the pressure, to put one more ball in.
"I think my movements have been improving. Today was a good day in that. I'm super happy because, after the battle of yesterday, to be able to be on court against a player like Sascha - he had a tough match, too, but he's more than 10 years younger than me.
"I remember well the feeling on the body when you are younger comparing to today and the feeling is completely different. And I was able to be fit, to be ready, and that's something that gives me confidence."
Nadal next faces a surprise opponent in American Reilly Opelka, who is through to his first Masters semi-final after a 7-5 7-6 (7-2) victory over Federico Delbonis.
Opelka said: "I'm really pleased. We have been working hard. I made some adjustments on my game. It's nice to see them come into play. Rafa's brutal. But it will be a good test. I've never played Rafa."
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Barty a French Open doubt?
In the women's draw, world No 1 Ashleigh Barty was forced to retire despite leading 17-year-old Coco Gauff 6-4 2-1 at the time.
The Australian called for the physio after the third game of the second set before having her leg strapped and right arm in a compression sleeve, but she called it a day in heavy conditions.
Barty missed the 2020 clay-court swing due to the COVID-19 pandemic but has returned even stronger this season, winning the title in Stuttgart before finishing runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka in Madrid last week.
The 24-year-old now faces a battle to prove her fitness before the French Open, which begins on May 30 in Paris.
"It was getting worse and that's where it's important to understand my body," Barty told reporters. "It's a pre-existing injury, it's an issue I've had troubles with before so it's important to know what the recovery looks like and not allow it to get to a stage where it becomes uncontrollable in a sense where we can't recover from it.
"As tough as it is, I hate pulling out of a match halfway though and it's not in my make-up, but it was really important I listened to what my body was telling me to make sure that in a couple weeks' time, we're good to go."
Coco Gauff advances to her 1st WTA 1000 semifinal and first semifinal on red clay.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 14, 2021
Gauff will move into the Top 30 for the first time on Monday.
Before facing Barty in the quarterfinals, Gauff notched tough wins over Putintseva, Sakkari, and Sabalenka.#ibi21 pic.twitter.com/xivQ8qlR1l
Gauff, who will move into the WTA top 30 on Monday for the first time, will face the winner of the match between Elina Svitolina and Iga Swiatek for a place in the final.
Czech Karolina Pliskova came from a set down to defeat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 4-6 7-5 7-6 (7-1).
The ninth seed will take on Petra Martic for a place in Sunday's final after the Croatian defeated American Jessica Pegula 7-5 6-4.
Martic, who has been working with 2010 French Open winner Francesca Schiavone, believes the Italian has instilled confidence back in her game.
She said: "Obviously my game started really coming together, like pieces are really like being like put together. Now it looks like a whole picture finally, and I don't need to think so much on the court anymore.
"We really just worked on the basics, because then once I'm confident from the baseline, then the net game is going to work, my serve is going to come, things around are going to be okay. I just needed to find my baseline game, and that used to be my strength.
"I really feel like I'm getting more and more confidence with each second that I spend on the court."