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First Two Semifinalists in Rome Paint an Alarming Contrast in King of Clay Nadal and Big-Serving Opelka

Reilly Opelka has not dropped a set reaching his first Masters 1000 semifinal in Rome where he takes on nine-time champion Rafael Nadal. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI

By Ricky Dimon

Rafael Nadal beat a familiar foe–and the rain–on Friday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

Facing Alexander Zverev for the second time in two weeks, Nadal exacted revenge for a Mutua Madrid Open loss by cruising 6-3, 6-4 in the Rome quarterfinals. The Spaniard prevailed after one hour and 59 minutes, getting off the court before rain cancelled the last two men’s matches.

Nadal won 12 of the 16 total break points (nine of 10 saved, three of six converted). That was a big reason why he turned the tide from his 6-4, 6-4 setback at the same stage of the Madrid Masters.

“[I am] happy,” the nine-time Rome champion assured. “I played a very solid match with not many mistakes, playing the way that I have to. [It is] an important victory for me against a great player.

“I think I played more solid than in Madrid. At the same time, conditions are different. In Madrid, he was able to create a lot of damage with his serve and then with the first shot. Here, the situation is a little bit different. [These are] a little bit more normal conditions on the clay, so I was able to control a little bit more the game than in Madrid.”

Nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal will face big-serving Reilly Opelka for the first time in Saturday’s semifinals. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI

Up next for Nadal is another big server in surprise semifinalist Reilly Opelka, who won the first match of the day over Federico Delbonis via a 7-5, 7-6(3) decision. Opelka advanced to his first-ever Masters 1000 semi after one hour and 41 minutes.

“I am surprised,” the 6’11” American admitted. “Clay is not really my thing; not much of an American thing. It is probably just a fluke, but I’ll run with it.”

Opelka will be going up against Nadal for the first time in his career on Saturday afternoon.

Following the Opelka and Nadal victories, Friday’s Novak Djokovic vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas showdown was suspended by rain with Tsitsipas leading by a set and a break. Andrey Rublev and Lorenzo Sonego never started their match.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.