Rafael Nadal was delighted with his performance at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Friday, where he snapped his three-match losing streak against Alexander Zverev to reach his 12th semi-final in Rome.
Just one week after his quarter-final loss to the German at the Mutua Madrid Open, the 34-year-old was able to turn the tables on his Top 10 rival and consistently find his best tennis under pressure. Nadal found himself in trouble on multiple occasions against the in-form Madrid champion, but he was able to save nine of the 10 break points he faced with his attacking strategy from the baseline.
“I played much better than yesterday. I did a lot of things well [and I was] playing much more solid. I think I played one of [my] more solid matches on clay this year against a very tough opponent,” Nadal said.
“It’s a great victory for me. Of course it’s important because under pressure [and in] tough moments, sometimes I lost important points [in the] past couple of weeks. Today, yesterday [and] before yesterday too, I was able to manage [these situations] well. [I was able] to [absorb] the pressure, to put one more ball in.”
A tall task stands between Nadal and a place in his 12th Rome final. That task is 6’11” American Reilly Opelka. The World No. 47 is yet to drop a set this week and has struck 77 aces, compared to just four double faults, across his four wins in the Italian capital.
“[Reilly is] a very tough opponent to play. Super difficult. He has [a] huge, huge serve,” Nadal said. “I need to be very focused with my serve and try to give myself some chances on the return… He’s able to play aggressive from the baseline too, so I need to play well. [It is] going to be a tough one, of course, but [it is the] semi-finals of a Masters 1000, what can you expect?”
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Following the match, Nadal was reminded of one of his most memorable victories at the Foro Italico. Exactly 15 years ago, the Spaniard saved two championship points to defeat Roger Federer 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5) in the 2006 championship match.
“We [have had] some great battles here in Rome… I think we enjoyed [the 2006 final], both of us, even if that day was for me,” Nadal said. “We [have] played some great matches [against] each other, and this one [is] one of the longest that we [have] played.
“I think he played a good match. I was lucky in the fifth [set]. [They are] good memories. The best thing for me, without a doubt, is [that] 15 years later [I am] still here. [It is] something unexpected for a lot of people, and for me too.”