ROME, May 16, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
With a complete washout of Wednesday’s play, the road to the Internazionali BNL d’Italia title in Rome will require the all-time greats – World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, World No. 2 Rafael Nadal and World No. 3 Roger Federer – to win five matches in four days. It’s been anything but a normal week in this ATP Masters 1000 tournament on red clay – not only for the Big Three of tennis but also for the rank-and-file players, too. However, after a day full of rainy weather, there was plenty of beautiful sunshine dotting the Foro Italico landscape on Thursday that allowed the tournament to get back on schedule with the quarterfinals looming on the horizon Friday.
One of the “Big Three,” Federer, saved two match points during a third-set tie-break against No. 13 seed Borna Coric of Croatia to survive a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7) third-round battle that lasted two hours and 31 minutes. It was Federer’s second match of the day and it took place on a jam-packed Grandstand court, where the atmosphere more resembled a Serie A football competition than a Masters 1000 tennis match.
When Federer was asked during a TV interview after he won how nerve-wracking it was, he said: “It was very tight. I got very lucky, again, today. It’s nice to get lucky sometimes. I’ve lost a lot of heartbreakers, too, throughout the years. So, it’s nice to win these and the atmosphere was fantastic. People were going crazy. It’s exactly how you want the atmosphere to be.
“Borna is a great guy, a super fair player. It was tough, but it was all good.
“The first set was really difficult, for me at least. I really struggled to see the ball. There was a lot of shade on the court. … I couldn’t chase the lines very well, So, I couldn’t hit any winners, but I really tried to play in a way where I was not going to just lose it. I gave him a chance to win, and he didn’t. So, I took it at the end.”
During the tie-break, Coric had two match points at 6-4 – including one on his serve – but he hit a forehand approach into the net on the first one. Then, a service winner by Federer erased the second match point. Federer put away the match on his second match-point opportunity when Coric unsuccessfully netted a backhand volley.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 16. Mai 2019
Soon after, Nadal and Djokovic joined Federer in reaching the quarterfinals. Nadal dropped just one game in his third-round match against No. 14 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia and won 6-1, 6-0.
“Playing two matches is a very dangerous day. I was able to manage it well,” said Nadal after beating Basilashvili in just 62 minutes. “I played well, especially I think better in the afternoon than the morning. Yeah, (I’m) happy about that level in the afternoon.”
Then, Djokovic joined his other “Big Three” mates by easily beating Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, 6-3, 6-0. Earlier, Kohlschreiber beat No. 16 seed Marco Cecchinato from Italy, 6-3, 6-3, in a match that was originally scheduled to be played on Tuesday night on Campo Centrale but was delayed until Thursday afternoon because of weather delays and moved to Court 2.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 16. Mai 2019
Since not a single point of any match was played Wednesday, it meant that a total of 20 singles matches (12 second-round and eight third-round), featuring each of the “Big Three” playing twice – both in the main stadium, Campo Centrale, as well as on the more intimate Grandstand court – were on Thursday’s order of play. It created a bonanza for fans and a challenge for the players. Thus, it was no surprise that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic minimized their time on court during their earlier second-round matches to save themselves for later. They would have about four hours to rest up in between matches.
Playing in Rome for the first time since 2016, Federer advanced over Joao Sousa of Portugal, 6-4, 6-3, in one hour and 20 minutes by converting all seven of his break-point chances. The Swiss maestro looked comfortable not only sliding, but also in hitting winners and keeping Sousa off balance with a variety of drop shots.
Afterward, Federer said, “I’m happy we got to play a good match. I think it’s a slippery court here, I must say. It’s tough to play I think for all the players. Every clay court plays slightly different: Monaco, Madrid, Barcelona, here, Paris. I think when it’s a bit nicer weather here, it slides a lot. I came out of the blocks well, had a good feeling. Didn’t get broken. That on clay in a first round is a good sign.”
Meanwhile, Nadal needed just 67 minutes to beat Jeremy Chardy of France, 6-0, 6-1, and the Spaniard improved to 7-0 at Foro Italico when he wins a set 6-0. (Later, against Basilashvili, he would up the record to 8-0.) Finally, after a bit of a struggle, Djokovic moved on by defeating Denis Shapovalov of Canada, 6-1, 6-3, in 66 minutes by converting nine of 13 break-point opportunities.
“I didn’t spend too much time on the court in this first match. That’s a positive, obviously, in these circumstances,” said Djokovic. “But it’s not the first, probably not the last time, I’m going to play two matches in a day. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been playing well, feeling well, high confidence. Hopefully I can keep on going.”
At the start of the day, there were a total of 24 players who could compete twice in singles in the same day. However, that number was reduced early on thanks to Fernando Verdasco’s 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 upset of No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem on Pietrangeli that lasted two hours and 43 minutes. The 35-year-old Spaniard showed great power and exercised much discipline in beating Thiem.
“Dominic is right now, for me, Top 3 on clay, for sure,” said Verdasco in describing his feeling after winning, as quoted by the ATP Tour website. “Obviously, I think that 3-0 record for me in the previous matches gives me extra confidence. … I think it was an unbelievable match. I think both of us had chances to win the match. I think he played much, much better obviously than the last time we played in Rio.
“For me it’s always amazing to beat a player as good as him. That gives me a lot of happiness and a lot of confidence.”
The Austrian’s European clay-court results heading into Roland Garros have been a mixture of excellence and disappointment. Thiem won Barcelona (including a semifinal win over Nadal) and reached the semifinals at Madrid (before losing to Djokovic). However, he lost in the round of 16 at Monte-Carlo (to Dusan Lajovic) and, now, in the second round at Rome.
After his loss to Verdasco, according to New York Times tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg, the generally mild-mannered Thiem was “quite pissed” at the tournament organizers for what Rothenberg described as “stringing players along” on Wednesday “and making them wait out what looked like a guaranteed washout.”
Thiem said, “I really dislike how we players get treated at this tournament because yesterday was, in my opinion, not acceptable.”
After a short respite, Verdasco was back on court to face a much-rested No. 11 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, who was one of four players that played their second-round matches on Tuesday. However, Verdasco surprised the Russian and won 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. It was the second time Verdasco has defeated Khachanov in consecutive weeks after he won a three-setter in Madrid last week. On Friday, Verdasco will play his first clay-court Masters 1000 quarterfinal since May 2012 when he faces fellow Spaniard Nadal. The eight-time Rome champion Nadal leads their career head-to-head 16-3.
Fernando feelin’ the love in Roma
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 16. Mai 2019
Around Foro Italico
• In one of the more interesting second-round matchups, Madrid finalist and No. 8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece defeated 17-year-old Italian wild card Jannik Sinner, 6-3, 6-2. Sinner, ranked No. 263, who was playing in his first Masters 1000 main draw, was the youngest player to win a match in Rome (when he beat No. 59 Steve Johnson of the United States in the first round) since Goran Ivanisevic at age 17 in 1989. Later, Tsitsipas faced No. 10 seed Fabio Fognini from Italy, who earlier bested Radu Albot of Moldova, 7-6 (6), 6-3. The Greek was up to the challenge of playing two matches in one day and beat Fognini, 6-4, 6-3, in one hour and 12 minutes. Tsitsipas won 81 percent of his first-serve points (26 of 32) and broke the Italian’s serve four times to advance against Federer.
• It’s not often that a match ends in a default, but leave it to the mercurial Nick Kyrgios to find a way to lose – by default. It came against Norwegian qualifier Casper Ruud, who led Kyrgios 6-3, 6-7 (5), 2-1 after one hour and 28 minutes. Then, the Aussie went on a tirade after receiving a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct and also was given a game penalty for his outburst. Before he picked up his equipment bag and stormed off Court 2, Kyrgios slammed his racquet against the red clay and tossed a folding chair out on the court. Then, as he looked at some of the fans who seemed to be antagonizing him with a mixture of cheers and boos, Kyrgios stood on the court waving his arms very animatedly said, “I’m done. I’m f**king done.”
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 16. Mai 2019
Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist tweeted: “Nick Kyrgios, to be clear, is not under any ATP probation at this stage. His behavior in Rome will clearly be sanctioned in some manner. Just a fine? Or a suspension?”
To his credit, Kyrgios shook hands with both Ruud and the chair umpire before departing the packed Court 2 aided by a tournament security escort.
A surprised Ruud advanced against Argentine No. 7 seed Juan Martín del Potro, who earlier in the day defeated David Goffin of Belgium by taking advantage of four break points to win 6-4, 6-2. However, Ruud’s good fortune ran out and del Potro won 6-4, 6-4 to move into the quarterfinals against Djokovic.
• Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany won his third Top 10 match of the season when he took out No. 9 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, a Rome semifinalist last year, 6-2, 6-3 in 69 minutes. It was a reversal of Cilic’s three-set win over Struff in the second round of Madrid last week. Also, No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori, a 2016 Rome semifinalist, advanced to face Struff with a 6-2, 6-4 win over American qualifier Taylor Fritz, 6-2, 6-4 in 72 minutes. Then, Nishikori beat Struff to reach the quarterfinal round with a 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 come-from-behind win.
• Diego Schwartzman of Argentina quietly advanced to the quarterfinals with a pair of wins, first over qualifier Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain, 7-6 (5), 6-1, then hometown wild card Matteo Berrettini from Rome, 6-3, 6-4. Next, he plays Nishikori.
Singles / second round
No. 1 Novak Djokovic d. Denis Shapovalov, 6-1, 6-3
Philipp Kohlschreiber d. No. 16 Marco Cecchinato, 6-3, 6-3
Q-Casper Ruud d. Nick Kyrgios, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 2-1 (default).
No. 7 Juan Martín del Potro d. David Goffin, 6-4, 6-2
Diego Schwartzman d. Q-Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 7-6 (5), 6-1
Jan-Lennard Struff d. No. 9 Marin Cilic, 6-2, 6-3
No. 6 Kei Nishikori d. Q-Taylor Fritz, 6-2, 6-4
No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas d. WC-Jannik Sinner, 6-3, 6-2
No. 10 Fabio Fognini d. Radu Albot, 7-6 (6), 6-3
No. 3 Roger Federer d. Joao Sousa, 6-4, 6-3
Fernando Verdasco d. No. 5 Dominic Thiem, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5
No. 2 Rafael Nadal d. Jeremy Chardy 6-0, 6-1
Singles / third round
No. 1 Novak Djokovic d. Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 6-0
No. 7 Juan Martín del Potro d. Q-Casper Ruud, 6-4, 6-4
Diego Schwartzman d. WC-Matteo Berrettini, 6-3, 6-4
No. 6 Kei Nishikori d. Jan-Lennard Struff, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3
No. 3 Roger Federer d. No. 13 Borna Coric, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7)
Fernando Verdasco d. No. 11 Karen Khachanov, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3
No. 2 Rafael Nadal d. No. 14 Nikoloz Basilashvili, 6-1, 6-0
No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas d. No. 10 Fabio Fognini, 6-4, 6-3