Rafael Nadal beat Fernando Verdasco for the 17th time (17-3) on Friday in Rome to set a semi-final rematch with Greece’s #NextGenATP star Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The second-seeded Nadal recovered from an early break – and further break point chances – in the opening set against his countryman to roll into his 71st ATP Masters 1000 semi-final – and third consecutive – 6-4, 6-0 at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, the season’s third and final clay-court Masters 1000 event.
“He was playing great, being honest. I was not playing bad at the beginning at all. But he was playing unbelievable. No mistakes, a lot of winners, taking the ball early. Was a very difficult first set,” Nadal said. “I think I had a good feelings during the whole match. Then after winning that first set, in the second… of course he slows down a little bit, but I was able to play a little bit more aggressive with the forehand. I did a lot of things well this afternoon.”
It marks the third consecutive match in which Nadal has blanked his opponent during a set, and the first time Nadal has earned a bagel set in three straight matches during his 1,135-match career.
During double duty on Thursday, the 32-year-old beat Jeremy Chardy of France 6-0, 6-1, and Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1, 6-0. Through six sets in Rome, Nadal has spent only three hours and 48 minutes on court.
He has now won three consecutive FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Verdasco, and once Nadal settled into Campo Centrale, the quarter-final was in no question.
Verdasco, who last beat Nadal on clay at 2015 Hamburg, was playing freely to start, dictating with his forehand. He broke for a 2-0 lead and had a break point for 3-0.
The 35-year-old played his best tennis of the season in Rome, having upset No. 4 Dominic Thiem and No. 13 Karen Khachanov on Thursday to make his first Masters 1000 quarter-final since the 2017 Rolex Paris Masters.
But Nadal eventually regained his comfort level and, feeling confident with his forehand, smashed winners up the line. At 4-4, Verdasco stepped into the court with a forehand winner to bring up three break point chances and the opportunity to serve out the set.
But Nadal erased the trio of chances, and broke a disappointed Verdasco during his next four service games to make his fifth tour-level semi-final of the year.
“[It’s] good news I have been able to be back again in the semi-finals. Another three straight victories. I have been in that round during the last five events. First one I didn’t have the chance to play, Indian Wells. The next three, Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, I lost in this round of semi-finals. But [to] be there all the time is good news,” Nadal said.
He and Tsitsipas met one week ago Saturday during the Mutua Madrid Open semi-finals, where Tsitsipas upset the five-time champion and gained his first win in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series (1-3). Tsitsipas advanced to the semi-finals by walkover when Roger Federer withdraw because of a right leg injury.
“What happened, I know. The solution, I know. The execution is not easy,” Nadal said, smiling. “The theory is always easy, but the execution is much more difficult. Tennis is a simple sport. After a lot of years here, I know what happened last week, and I going to try to do it better tomorrow.”
Did You Know?
This is the sixth tournament in Nadal’s career in which he’s won three 6-0 sets. In the previous five, he went on to win the title:
2017 Roland Garros, 2014, Roland Garros
2012, Roland Garros, 2010 Monte-Carlo and 2008 Roland Garros.