Both of them – Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori – would have signed up for this result had you told them they’d be here before the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, the season’s third and final ATP World Tour clay-court Masters 1000 tournament.
Djokovic, on the comeback from minor right-elbow surgery, is into his first ATP World Tour quarter-final of the season. His three-match winning streak in Rome is his longest since January, when he also won three consecutive matches at the Australian Open.
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Djokovic vs Nishikori | Nadal vs Fognini | Zverev vs Goffin | Cilic vs Carreno Busta
In that way, it’s surprising that Djokovic has advanced with such ease in Rome, winning all six sets he’s played in the Italian capital against 2017 Argentina Open titlist Alexandr Dolgopolov, Georgian qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili and Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain.
View his streak through a Roman prism, though, and it makes perfect sense. All 12 times Djokovic has played in Rome, including this year, he’s made the quarter-finals.
“I’m just trying to thrive on this energy that I get from people here,” Djokovic said after beating Ramos-Vinolas on Thursday. “I’ve historically always played well in Rome, and I feel like each match is getting better.”
Nishikori, on the comeback from right-wrist surgery, doesn’t have quite the Roman streak – his best result is the 2016 semi-finals – but the Japanese star’s quarter-final run here shouldn’t have surprised anyone. During his first clay-court tournament of the year, the former World No. 4 sprinted to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters final, beating Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev before falling to Rafael Nadal.
Nishikori lost his Barcelona opener to Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and his first match at the Mutua Madrid Open to Djokovic. The former No. 1 player in the ATP Rankings has beaten Nishikori 11 straight times and every time they’ve played on clay, including in Rome in 2015 and 2016.
“We had some epic matches here,” Djokovic said. “I think this match tomorrow comes at the right time for both of us to see where we are with our game.”
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Seven-time champion Nadal owns a similar FedEx ATP Head2Head advantage against his quarter-final opponent, Fabio Fognini. The Spaniard leads their series 10-3 and has beaten the home favourite five straight times.
But countless tennis fans have doubted Fognini only to later regret the decision, even when he’s faced Nadal. At the 2015 US Open, the Italian came back from two sets to love down to upset the Spaniard.
If Nadal can continue his winning streak in Rome and capture the title, he’ll re-claim No. 1 in the ATP Rankings from Roger Federer on 21 May.
On the other half of the draw, defending champion Alexander Zverev, the hottest player on the ATP World Tour, takes his 11-match and 22-set win streaks into his quarter-final against No. 10 David Goffin, who advanced after Juan Martin del Potro retired down 2-6, 5-4. Zverev needed eight match points to beat top Brit Kyle Edmund in straight sets.
The 21-year-old German, who won back-to-back titles in Munich and Madrid, hasn’t lost since falling to Nishikori in the Monte-Carlo semi-finals on 21 April. Zverev beat Goffin during their only prior FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, a straight-sets win on clay in Nice in 2016.
Friday’s fourth quarter-final features No. 5 Marin Cilic against No. 11 Pablo Carreno Busta. Cilic is 0-5 in Masters 1000 quarter-finals on clay, and two of those losses have come in Rome (2011, 2017). But the Croatian leads his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Carreno Busta 2-0, although both matches have come on hard courts.
Carreno Busta, meanwhile, will try reach his second Masters 1000 semi-final of the season (Miami, l. to Zverev) and improve upon his 3-22 record against the Top 10.