Exactly one week on from his quarter-final loss to Alexander Zverev at the Mutua Madrid Open, Rafael Nadal took his revenge against the German on Friday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
The nine-time champion saved all eight break points he faced in the second set to defeat Zverev 6-3, 6-4 after two hours on Centre Court. Nadal’s win ended a streak of three straight losses against the World No. 6 and improved his ATP Head2Head record against Zverev to 6-3.
“[I am] happy. I played a very solid match with not many mistakes, playing the way that I have to,” Nadal said in his post-match interview. “[It is] an important victory for me against a great player.”
Nadal is now just two wins away from equalling Novak Djokovic’s record haul of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles. The 34-year-old is also attempting to win 10 or more titles at a single event for the fourth time. Nadal already owns 13 Roland Garros crowns, 12 Barcelona trophies and 11 Monte-Carlo titles.
The Spaniard is through to his 12th semi-final in Rome. Nadal will attempt to extend his unbeaten 11-0 semi-final record at the Foro Italico when he faces first-time ATP Masters 1000 semi-finalist Reilly Opelka on Saturday. Opelka saved all four break points he faced to defeat Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis 7-5, 7-6(2) on Grand Stand Arena.
“[I will face] a big chance against a player who has almost an unreturnable serve. [Reilly] is playing well,” Nadal said. “I need to be very focussed with my serve and then try to be ready to accept [the situation] and be [engaged] on the return. That is what I am looking for.”
In the first set, Nadal used his forehand to control the centre of the court and found consistent success behind his second-serve return (9/13). The 35-time Masters 1000 titlist raced into a 4-0 lead, but Zverev played with increased aggression from the baseline to reduce the gap. When serving for the set at 5-3, Nadal targeted Zverev’s backhand to save break point and convert his first set point.
Down 0/40 on his serve at 1-2 in the second set, Nadal played his way out of trouble with strong serving and powerful forehands. The second seed carried his momentum into the following game, where he dragged his opponent out of position with his forehand and broke serve with a series of topspin backhands. Nadal saved a further five break points in the second set and he clinched his place in the semi-finals by serving and volleying on his first match point.
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“I think I played more solid than in Madrid. At the same time, conditions are different,” Nadal said. “In Madrid, he was able to create a lot of damage with his serve and then with the first shot. Here, the situation is a little bit different. [These are] a little bit more normal conditions on the clay, so I was able to control a little bit more the game than in Madrid.”
Zverev was aiming to join Djokovic (7), Roger Federer (5) and Nikolay Davydenko (4) as only the fourth player to defeat Nadal in four or more consecutive matches. The 24-year-old entered the quarter-final clash on a seven-match winning streak, following his second title run in Madrid last week.