Zverev Continues Roman Conquest In Seach Of First 2022 Title

Alexander Zverev (photo: Adelchi Fioriti, Internazionali BNL d’Italia)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 13, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 3 and second seed Alexander Zverev struck 24 winners and broke Cristian Garin‘s service four times – and, arguably, his spirit, too – to win 7-5, 6-2 in Rome Friday. The victory lifted him into the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia for the third time.

Coming off a title loss on clay in Madrid last Sunday, Zverev has reset and refocused this week on the Roman red dirt. He has not dropped a set in any of his three commanding victories. Each of his triumphs – over Sebastian Baez, Alex de Minaur and Garin – have been highlighted by his ball-striking abilities and intensity.

Having won seven of his last eight matches – the only setback coming in the Madrid final to Carlos Alcaraz – Zverev has advanced to play World No. 5 and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday.

Against the 45th-ranked Garin, during their one hour and 51-minute quarterfinal on Grand Stand Arena, Zverev leveled his career head-to-head with the Chilean after losing to him on clay at Munich in 2019.

“It was a high-level match,” Zverev said during his on-court interview after the win. “At times it wasn’t pretty tennis, but I got the job done and that is the most important thing. I am through to the semifinals and I am happy about that.”

Zverev hit four aces, won 70 percent (33 of 47) of his first-serve points, saved four of five break points and converted four of 11 break-point chances. He outpointed Garin 77-61.

Great day at office for Tsitsipas in win over Sinner

Stefanos Tsitsipas found out firsthand that it’s not always easy to beat both his opponent and try to win over the crowd – especially when the opponent is a home favorite. On Friday, the Greek star maintained calm and moved about the red clay with artistry and purpose to beat 20-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner, 7-6 (5), 6-2, in two hours and 24 minutes on Court Centrale. It was Tsitsipas’ fourth win in five meetings against Sinner.

“I am happy things turned out well. It was a great day at the office,” Tsitsipas said during his on-court interview after his quarterfinal victory, in which the opening set lasted 86 minutes before Tsitsipas broke away in the second. “I was able to really step it up in the second set and I think the most important part was that first set tie-break. I really went for it when I had to. I didn’t overthink or hesitate and that paid off in the end.”

Tsitsipas, who hit 10 aces, saved five of six break points he faced and broke Sinner three times in six attempts. He outpointed Sinner 86-77.

When Tsitsipas and Zverev meet in Saturday afternoon’s first semifinal match on Court Centrale, it will be the third time during the European clay season that the two Top-5 stars have faced off in a semifinal. Tsitsipas beat Zverev en route to winning his most recent title at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, then the German beat the Greek last weekend in the Mutua Madrid Open.

“We have similar game styles but he is one of the most difficult players to play against on the Tour,” Tsitsipas said of Zverev in advance of their match. “I have a lot of respect for him. He has achieved a lot so far and I try and look up to him with the things he has achieved.”

After earlier clay disappointments, Ruud finding his footing in Rome

Norway’s Casper Ruud reached his first European clay-court semifinal of the season after defeating No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, 7-6 (7), 7-5, on Court Centrale. The two-hour and 19-minute victory lifted Ruud into Saturday evening’s second semifinal against World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic, who beat eighth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, 7-5, 7-6 (1) Friday evening in the day’s final quarterfinal match.

Ruud is coming off of a pair of disappointing finishes on clay, in earlier Masters 1000 events at Monte-Carlo and Madrid, in which he lost in the round of 16 in the former and the second round of the latter. He fared better in between by reaching the quarterfinals at both Barcelona and Munich. This is his second time to reach the Rome semifinals after achieving the last four in 2020. Ruud is chasing after his eighth career ATP Tour title.

Seeded fifth in Rome, the World No. 10 Ruud has turned back Botic van de Zandschulp, Jenson Brooksby and now Shapovalov, who less than 24 hours earlier fought past an injured Rafael Nadal to reach the quarterfinals. Ruud saved set points in both the first and second sets against Shapovalov, who lost a Masters 1000 quarterfinal for the first time after five earlier successes.

“I think one of the most important things on clay is to put a lot of first serves in,” said Ruud, who placed 72 percent (58 of 81) of his first serves in play and won 78 percent (45 of 58) of his first-serve points. He saved both break points he faced but converted just one of 15 chances against Shapovalov. “Today was working well. I was serving well all match. At the beginning you are sometimes a bit nervous and excited to start. But after that, I was able to calm down and find my tempo.”

A turning point came at 5-all when Ruud endured a 22-point game that lasted 14 minutes and broke Shapovalov on his ninth break-point opportunity to go ahead 6-5. Ruud maintained a calm demeanor and stayed positive throughout, then served out the match in the next game. He was asked during his on-court interview what was going on inside of him.

“Obviously, maybe not as calm as I appeared to be,” Ruud admitted. “I thought I was doing the right thing – the opportunities were right there – you always feel the nerves on break points, the important points. It’s a big thing to get a break against Shapovalov. It’s not an easy thing. The chances you have you want to take care of them. The one I got was enough to win the second set.”

Ruud finished with 25 winners to 19 unforced errors, while Shapovalov hit 28 winners and made 35 unforced errors. Ruud outpointed Shapovalov 97-88.

Djokovic in a happy place in Rome this week

World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic is in a happy place in Rome this week – especially after reaching the semifinal round with a 7-5, 7-6 (1) win over No. 8 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in two hours and nine minutes on Court Centrale Friday evening. It was the 999th career victory for Djokovic, who was appearing in his 16th straight Rome quarterfinal. He’s a five-time Italian champion.

The 34-year-old Djokovic and Auger-Aliassime, 21, met for the first time with the Serbian needing a victory to maintain his No. 1 ranking in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for next week, 370 weeks and counting. Djokovic had lost just nine games in his first two matches, earning wins over Aslan Karatsev and Stan Wawrinka. While Auger-Aliassime would push Djokovic to a second-set tie-break, Djokovic rose to the occasion.

It was mission accomplished.

Djokovic won seven of the last eight points of the match to garner the last quarterfinal of the day, and it ensured that three of the top four seeds are into the last four.

“I thought it was high-level tennis,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “He did ask me to raise the level and I had to play consistently well. I thought I could have finished the job earlier … but credit to him for fighting back. Amazing atmosphere as well tonight.”

Djokovic hit four aces and won 74 percent (42 of 57) of his first-serve points. He saved three of five break points while breaking Auger-Aliassime three times in eight opportunities. Djokovic outpointed his opponent 82-68 to advance against No. 5 seed Casper Ruud, where he will go for career win No. 1,000 Saturday evening.

“Great quality opponent again,” Djokovic said of Ruud. “Clay-court specialist, but he has improved a lot in other surfaces, played the final of Miami this year. Just a very hard worker, nice guy.

“We practice a lot and get along well off the court. Tomorrow obviously on the court we want to win against each other, no doubt. Hopefully I can play as well as I did tonight.”

Around the Foro Italico

John Isner of the United States and Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman continued their superhero run in Rome with another doubles win against a pair of doubles specialists, Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain. Team Isnerman prevailed over Heliovaara and Glasspool, 6-3, 6-2, to advance to Saturday’s semifinals. Isner and Schwartzman will play Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina and Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan, who defeated Gonzalo Escobar of Ecuador and Ariel Behar of Uruguay, 6-2, 7-6 (10).

Also, No. 3 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, defeated recent Mutua Madrid Open champions and this week’s No. 7 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-4. Next, the defending Rome champions will face Italians Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini, who beat No. 8 seeds Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, both of Germany, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 11-9.

Friday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia results

Saturday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia order of play

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic appeared in his 16th consecutive Rome quarterfinal (since 2007). He is 13-3 in quarterfinal matches. By reaching the Rome semifinals, he will remain No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on Monday. He now has 999 career wins.

“Quotable …”

“It’s the time to accept the situation and fight. That’s it … I don’t know if rest, I don’t if maybe practice. But I still have a goal in one week and a couple of days. I’m going to keep dreaming about that goal.”

Rafael Nadal, commenting in his press conference following his third-round loss Thursday night to Denis Shapovalov. Nadal was asked whether the condition of his injured foot would allow him to still go after a record-extending 14th French Open title.