Rafael Nadal is in top form at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, his first tournament since February.
The nine-time champion cruised past 2019 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters finalist Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-3 on Friday to reach his 15th Rome quarter-final.
Nadal has only lost six games in his first two matches, including a 6-1, 6-1 triumph against US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta on Wednesday. The Spaniard has won an impressive 73 per cent (11/15) of his return games to reach his 93rd Masters 1000 quarter-final.
Lajovic is a dangerous clay-court foe. Last season, the Serbian reached the Monte Carlo final and lifted his maiden ATP Tour trophy on Umag’s clay. But Nadal never allowed the World No. 25 to get going on Court Centrale, manoeuvring him around the court as if he had him on a string. The second seed was firing with his forehand and struck his cross-court backhand well to keep Lajovic on the move.
The shot of the match came at 2-1 in the first set. Lajovic hit a kick serve out wide that nearly put the legendary lefty into the flower boxes on the side of the court, but Nadal responded by crushing a down-the-line return winner to break serve. Lajovic battled hard, winning three consecutive games from 1-6, 0-4 down by improving his court positioning, but it was too little, too late. Nadal quickly halted his momentum, holding and then breaking at love to close out his 90-minute win.
The World No. 2 leads Lajovic 3-0 in their ATP Head2Head series. He has won seven of their eight sets by a margin of 6-3 or greater.
Nadal will next face eighth seed Diego Schwartzman, who rallied past dangerous Pole Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 after two hours and nine minutes. The Spaniard leads their rivalry 9-0, with seven of those victories coming in straight sets.
Schwartzman has enjoyed success in Rome, reaching the semi-finals last year with straight-set triumphs against Kei Nishikori and Matteo Berrettini. The Argentine trailed Hurkacz by a break in the third set, but he battled back under the lights.
Did You Know?
Nadal and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic both own 35 Masters 1000 titles. If either man triumphs in Rome, they will stand alone atop the Masters 1000 title leaderboard.