Rafael Nadal flags “a couple of things” he needs to improve as his bid for a 10th Internazionali BNL d’Italia title builds momentum. It could sound alarm bells for No. 8 seed Diego Schwartzman when the pair meets in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
No. 2 seed Nadal conceded just six games total in his first two matches, despite not having played in more than six months. The No. 2 seed holds a perfect 9-0 ATP Head2Head record against the Argentine – including 22 of 24 sets.
The Spaniard backed up his comfortable dismissal of US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta with a 6-1, 6-3 result against Serb Dusan Lajovic on Friday. He has won an impressive 73 per cent (11/15) of his return games to reach his 93rd Masters 1000 quarter-final.
“I need to keep working on a couple of things that are not coming automatically, but I can’t ask for more,” Nadal said following his win over Lajovic. “[It was] another great evening for me against another good opponent. Can’t complain at all. Much better [than] what I expected.”
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Schwartzman made a deep run in Rome last year, when he reached the semi-finals with straight-sets victories over Kei Nishikori and Matteo Berrettini en route. The 28-year-old rallied from a break down in the final set to edge past Pole Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the third round.
“[It] always has been very tough and tricky matches against him,” Nadal said. “I know I have to play very well if I want to have chances and that’s what I’m going to try [to do].”
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Nadal and No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic will break their tied record should either win the title in Rome for a 36th Masters 1000 trophy. In an all-Serbian third-round clash, four-time champion Djokovic defeated Filip Krajinovic 7-6(7), 6-3 on Friday to set a quarter-final against German Dominik Koepfer, the first qualifier to advance as far since 2009.
The 33-year-old has now won 28 of his 29 matches this year, including title runs at the Australian Open, Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and Western & Southern Open. Koepfer, No. 97 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, has enjoyed a breakout week and is on a six-match winning streak, including his three victories in the qualifying rounds, in the Italian capital.
Having won through qualifying, he saved a match point to beat Alex de Minaur, then registered his first Top 10 win over Gael Monfils to reach the third round. There he ended the hopes of #NextGenATP Italian qualifier Lorenzo Musetti 6-4, 6-0 on Friday.
An Open Era record-equalling four Italians made it to the Round of 16 in Rome, but only one survived – their highest-ranked, No. 4 seed Berrettini. The 24-year-old eked out a tight 7-6(5), 7-6(1) contest against compatriot Stefano Travaglia.
Berrettini would become the first Italian man to reach the Rome semi-finals since Filippo Volandri in 2007 with a victory over Norwegian Casper Ruud next. The pair split two prior ATP Head2Head encounters – Ruud a winner on clay at Roland Garros last year and Berrettini a third-round victor in last month’s US Open.
Ruud followed in his father’s footsteps in reaching his maiden Masters 1000 quarter-final on Friday, with a 6-2, 7-6(6) win over 2018 Rome semi-finalist Marin Cilic. Christian Ruud made the 1997 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters quarter-finals.
A semi-finalist in Rome six years ago, Grigor Dimitrov had to dig deep to end the run of 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champion, Jannik Sinner, on Friday. The Bulgarian No. 15 seed rebounded from a set and a break down for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over the 19-year-old wild card.
He will carry a 2-0 ATP Head2Head ledger into his quarter-final showdown against No. 12 seed Denis Shapovalov, a player unbeaten in four Masters 1000 quarter-finals. The Canadian avenged January’s ASB Classic loss in Auckland to Ugo Humbert with a 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 victory on Friday.
ORDER OF PLAY – FRIDAY 18 SEPTEMBER 2020
CENTRALE start 12:00 pm
Not Before 2:30 pm
 Novak Djokovic v [Q] Dominic Koepfer
Not Before 7:00 pm
Not Before 8:30 pm
 Diego Schwartzman v  Rafael Nadal
PIETRANGELI start 12:00 pm
 Matteo Berrettini v Casper Ruud
Not Before 2:00 pm
Not Before 6:00 pm
 Denis Shapovalov v  Grigor Dimitrov
Click here to view the full Internazionali BNL d’Italia Saturday schedule.