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ATP Number One • Rafa Nadal Passes Djokovic Test, Advances To Rome 2018 Final Against Red-Hot Zverev

Alexander Zverev of Germany in action during his men’s singles semi final match against Marin Cilic of Croatia at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, 19 May 2018. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI



By Ricky Dimon


Rafael Nadal won, but there were no loses when the 51st chapter of the one of the Open Eras greatest rivalries was written on Saturday in Rome.


Novak Djokovic played arguably his best match of his comeback season despite falling to Nadal 7-6(4), 6-3 in the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. After one hour and 56 minutes, the Spaniard moved to within one win of both a return trip to the world No. 1 ranking and an eighth Rome title.


Spain’s Rafael Nadal in action during his men’s singles semi final match against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during the Italian Open tennis tournament at the Foro Italico in Rome, Italy, 19 May 2018. EPA-EFE/CLAUDIO ONORATI

“It was a tough battle,” Nadal commented. “I think a good level of tennis. [It was a] combination of tactics, a combination of great shots for both of us.”


“Rafa was just better in important moments,” Djokovic praised. “He just managed to play (the) right shots and he deserved to win. He was the better player. I don’t think that there was too much of a difference, which is great for me–great news for me because Rafa is, of course, the best player ever to play tennis on clay courts. And he’s in great, great form. It’s very difficult to play him on clay anywhere. But as I said, I thought the level of my tennis was very high.”


“All in all, (it was a) really, really good quality match. I enjoyed it. I hope the crowd did, too. And I can only take positives from this week.”


Djokovic now takes some much-needed momentum into the French Open, while Rome remains the task at hand for Nadal. The 31-year-old will face defending champion Alexander Zverev on Sunday after the German edged Marin Cilic 7-6(12), 7-5 later on Saturday.


“It will be a tough one,” Nadal assured. “Sascha is playing great, winning a lot of matches in a row.”


Zverev is 17-2 on clay this season, to be exact, and 17-1 against opponents not named Nadal. The world No. 3 is coming off titles in Munich and Madrid, and so far in Rome the defending champion has ousted Matteo Berrettini, Kyle Edmund, David Goffin, and Marin Cilic.


Nadal leads the head-to-head series 4-0, including 2-0 on clay.


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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