Frenzied Thursday Turns Into Fallout Friday In Rome

ROME, May 17, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

The fallout from the Internazionali BNL d’Italia’s frenzied Thursday schedule – in which the men’s Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, among many, played two matches to get the tournament back on schedule – hit Foro Italico hard on Friday.

World No. 3 and third seed Federer, who saved two match points against No. 13 seed Borna Coric of Croatia during a three-set win while playing in the unfamiliar surroundings of the intimate Grandstand court, withdrew Friday afternoon from the Rome quarterfinals against No. 8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, citing a right leg injury.

The four-time Rome finalist Federer said on Thursday that he had felt pain during his match against Coric on a court where he found the footing to be dangerous. After his withdrawal, he released a statement on Friday:

“I am disappointed that I will not be able to compete today. I am not 100 percent physically and after consultation with my team, it was determined that I not play. Rome has always been one of my favourite cities to visit, and I hope to be back next year.”

The 37-year-old Federer, who was playing Rome for the first time since 2016 after skipping the entire 2017 and 2018 European clay-court seasons, spent three hours and 51 minutes on court Thursday during his two matches, which also included a straight-set win over Joao Sousa of Portugal on Campo Centrale. In between matches, Federer had a four-hour respite before he was whisked by golf cart across the Foro Italico grounds to the Grandstand court to play Coric. By comparison, both Nadal and Djokovic were on court for two hours and nine minutes for their two matches.

It prompted New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey to tweet about Federer: “With the leg injury, have to wonder if it was the right call for Federer to add Rome to his clay-court schedule. French Open starts in 10 days. Will need to be fully fit to make a deep run. Got in five matches total before Roland Garros: 3 in Madrid, 2 in Rome (all in one day).”

To his credit, Federer has never retired during 1,465 career matches. However, he has incurred four walkover losses. Prior to today, Federer’s last walkover loss was back in 2014 during the final of the Nitto ATP Finals to Novak Djokovic because of a back injury. The others were: 2012 Qatar Open semifinals against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (back) and 2008 Rolex Paris Masters quarterfinals against James Blake (back).

Ironically, Federer was one of five quarterfinalists – the others being Nadal, Djokovic, Fernando Verdasco and Juan Martín del Potro – who reached the Rome quarterfinals 10 years ago.

Next for Federer is the French Open on clay, the season’s second Grand Slam event, which begins on May 26. Federer has not played at Roland Garros since 2015.

Schwartzman first into Rome semifinals

Unseeded Diego Schwartzman has quietly gone about his business this week – playing consistently on his favorite surface – and now he’s reaping the rewards. On Friday, the 24th-ranked Argentine made quick work of No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori from Japan and won 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 27 minutes on the Grandstand. It was Schwartzman’s first win in four tries against Nishikori and it represented the biggest win of his career – his first against a Top 6 opponent after going 0-15. The victory also advanced him to his first Masters 1000 semifinal against either the World No. 1 and top seed Djokovic or World No. 9 and No. 7 seed del Potro.

“It’s great for me, being in my first Masters 1000 quarterfinal,” Schwartzman said after his victory. “I’m very happy about today, beating Nishikori. He’s a great player in these kind of conditions, in Rome, on clay. I’m really happy and I will now focus on tomorrow.”

In outpointing the 2016 Rome finalist Nishikori 63-50, Schwartzman broke his opponent five times in 11 tries – including Nishikori’s first two service games of the match in jumping out to a 5-0 lead. He won 50 percent (30 of 60) of his return points.

“He was playing good,” Nishikori said during his post-match interview. “That’s for sure. Credit to him, that he was able to maintain his level first set and second set. Maybe he dropped his level from 5-0. If I could get the 5-4 game, maybe things could change. But he was playing aggressive, hitting good backhands and forehands, too. He came in very well. He was playing a little bit little more aggressive.”

After spending three hours and 10 minutes on two different outer courts Thursday in advancing over qualifier Albert Ramos-Vinolas from Spain and Italian wild card Matteo Berrettini, Schwartzman has yet to play any of his matches this week on the main Campo Centrale. However, that will change come Saturday.

Nadal sets up rematch against Tsitsipas

Second seed Nadal entered his quarterfinal match against Verdasco knowing he would have to produce his best tennis – and he did. Nadal recovered from an early break in the opening set and won 6-4, 6-0 in one hour and 38 minutes to reach his 71st career Masters 1000 semifinal – including his third straight. It also set up a rematch against Tsitsipas a week after losing to him in three sets in the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals.

“He’s always tough. He is a great player,” said Nadal of Verdasco, 35, his former Spanish Davis Cup teammate, as quoted by the ATP Tour website. “He’s a very dangerous player for everybody when he’s playing well and he’s having a great tennis career.”

At 4-all in the first set, Nadal erased three break points to hold serve. Then, in the next game, he broke Verdasco for the first of four consecutive service games to put the match out of reach. Nadal outpointed Verdasco 68-43.

Although Nadal improved his lifetime win-loss record against Verdasco to 17-3 with his latest win, going into Friday’s match, the two had split their past six with Nadal winning the two most recent clashes, both at Indian Wells in 2016 and 2017.

After Friday’s quarterfinal win, Nadal has lost just six games in six sets this week by taking advantage of the slower conditions at Foro Italico. The eight-time Rome champion Nadal is 0-3 in clay semifinals this year as he continues the search for his first ATP title – his longest drought to start a year since 2004.

Nadal dropped just two games in winning twice on Thursday, against Jeremy Chardy and Nikoloz Basilashvili, and now has won three straight matches in which he has won a set 6-0. He made quick work of his doubleheader by finishing his matches in a combined two hours and nine minutes. Meanwhile, Verdasco went the distance twice to defeat No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem and followed it with a win over No. 11 seed Karen Khachanov. He was on court for four hours and 58 minutes on Thursday.

Fines and penalties announced for Kyrgios

The ATP confirmed that Nick Kyrgios was defaulted from his match Thursday against Casper Ruud of Norway. The Aussie received a total fine of 20,000 Euros as well as forfeiture of points and prize money from Rome.

Broken down, Kyrgios received a warning for ball abuse, then a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct (5,000 Euro fine), a game penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct (7,500 Euro fine), and, finally, a default for unsportsmanlike conduct (7,500 Euro fine). Kyrgios will forfeit the 45 ATP rankings points he earned at the tournament, as well as all 33,635 Euros in prize money. He must also cover the cost of his hospitality during the tournament.

In an Instagram post a few hours after Kyrgios’ meltdown, he wrote: “Emotions got the better of me and I just wanted to say that the atmosphere was crazy out there today, just super unfortunate that it had to end in a default. Sorry Roma, see you again, maybe.”

By the numbers

With his victory over Fernando Verdasco on Friday, which was his 427th career win on clay, Rafael Nadal moved into third place on the ATP all-time clay-court win list, passing Thomas Muster.

Guillermo Vilas is first with 679 clay wins, followed by Manuel Orantes with 538, and Nadal with 427.