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Sensational Sonego Stuns Thiem In 3-Hour, 24-Minute Marathon

  • Posted: May 13, 2021

The rise of Italian tennis has been a major talking point in the tennis world in recent months, with Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini leading their country to the ATP Cup final and #NextGenATP stars Jannik Sinner and Lorenzo Musetti rapidly rising in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

But outside of Italy, Lorenzo Sonego has not been spoken about as often. On Thursday evening, the 26-year-old showed why he should be part of the conversation, upsetting fourth seed Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(5) to reach the quarter-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

“It’s amazing, an unbelievably emotional moment for me because I’m in Rome, in my Italy with fans for two sets,” Sonego said in his on-court interview. “I’m so happy for this victory, for this match. Thiem is with Nadal the best player on clay.”

Sonego entered the match 1-6 against Top 10 opponents, with his lone victory coming in straight sets last year against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Vienna. However, the home favourite looked full of belief at the Foro Italico, eliminating the reigning US Open champion after a marathon that lasted three hours and 24 minutes.

Thiem had won their only previous ATP Head2Head encounter 6-3, 7-6(6) two years ago in Kitzbuhel, and he served for the match in the third set in the last match of the evening inside Grand Stand Arena.

But Sonego is now playing some of the best tennis of his career, and he showed commendable grit to reach his second ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final. The two-time ATP Tour titlist made the last eight in Monte-Carlo two years ago.


Thiem showed his champion’s mettle, producing stunning shotmaking to get through the second-set tie-break, just like he did against Marton Fucsovics in the second round. At times, the Austrian’s one-handed backhand up the line dominated the match.

But after a 22-minute delay to clear fans out of Grand Stand Arena due to curfew, Sonego came out firing in the third set to take a 2-0 lead.

“It’s not easy to play two sets with fans and one more set with no fans,” Sonego said. “But I had my team and they supported me always. I’m happy.”

Thiem, who reached the Rome semi-finals in 2017, remained solid to rally and earn a chance to serve for the quarter-finals at 5-4.

But Sonego did not go away. The Italian fought until the end and showed more consistency to set a clash against seventh seed Andrey Rublev. Entering the week, Sonego had just a 2-4 record in Rome. This was his third win of the week.

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Rublev Grinds Down Bautista Agut To Reach Quarter-Finals

  • Posted: May 13, 2021

Seventh seed Andrey Rublev closed out the action on Pietrangeli with a hard-fought 6-4, 6-4 victory over 10th seed Roberto Bautista Agut on Thursday to reach his first quarter-final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

It was the pair’s third meeting of the season, with Bautista Agut ending Rublev’s nine-match winning streak at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha and the Russian gaining his revenge en route to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters final a few weeks later.

At the Foro Italico, the Russian fired 23 winners to Bautista Agut’s 12 (including five aces) to improve his ATP Head2Head record against the Spaniard to 3-3 and claim a tour-leading 29th victory (tied with Tsitsipas) of the year.

Into his seventh quarter-final of the season – and his first in Rome – Rublev awaits the winner of fourth seed Dominic Thiem and home favourite Lorenzo Sonego.

Rublev got off to an early break in both sets, but the 10th-seeded Spaniard never let him race too far ahead. He met Rublev blow-for-blow at the baseline, and honed in on his vulnerable second serves to get a break back for 4-2 in the opening set, and saved four more break points to get within a game of levelling the score. But Rublev slammed the door shut with a series of forehand winners late in the set to maintain his one-break lead and close out the opening set.


With night falling in Rome  – and the Eternal City’s 10pm curfew rapidly approaching – Rublev and Bautista Agut remained locked in battle with one break apiece in the second set as fans cleared out of Pietrangeli. After the brief delay, it was Rublev who refocussed first, quickly breaking to 30 at 5-4 before closing out the victory in an hour and 29 minutes.

Doha finalist Bautista Agut was bidding to reach his first clay-court quarter-final of the year, and had won three of his last four matches against the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings coming into the match.

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The King Of Clay's Gambit: How Nadal Turned Around Shapovalov Epic

  • Posted: May 13, 2021

Rafael Nadal was playing Denis Shapovalov the wrong way.

Down a set. Down 0-3, 30/40 serving in the second set. Nothing was clicking for the nine-time Internazionali BNL d’Italia champion. The match was spiraling out of control and he had yet to establish any kind of strategy that he could hang his hat on. The scoreline was scary. The lack of a proven game plan even more so.

And then, at the eleventh hour, the winning tactic manifested itself. It may as well have been Plan F for the Spaniard. Keep searching. Keep looking for the way out of the hole. Why not unleash hell strictly on his opponent’s one-handed backhand?

Nadal saved two match points en route to defeating Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) in three hours and 27 minutes. Locking onto Shapovalov’s backhand wing was what got Nadal over the line more than anything else. Nadal ran 3826 metres to Shapovalov’s 3065 metres for the match. That’s a massive deficit courtesy of an inefficient game plan for a set and half.

In the opening set, Shapovalov hit almost twice as many rally forehands as backhands. That’s bad math for Nadal any way you want to slice it. In the third set, Shapovalov hit more backhands than forehands. That’s got “King of Clay” stamped all over it. Nadal increasingly went to the backhand to source his points. He avoided going to the forehand unless he could put it under immense pressure.

Shapovalov, Forehand & Backhand Rally Totals – Set By Set

 Set Rally Forehands Rally Backhands
 Set 1  64% (67)  36% (37)
 Set 2  55% (69)  45% (56)
 Set 3  49% (76)  51% (78)

Nadal brought the same intensity to attack the backhand return as well. In the first two sets, first serves to the forehand and backhand were basically even. In the deciding third set, Nadal hit more than twice as many first serves to the backhand (11-5) in the Deuce court.

Nadal, Deuce Court 1st Serve Direction

Set  Wide (to backhand) Body T (to forehand)
 Set 1  7  1  6
 Set 2  5  4  4
 Set 3  11  3  5

Similar metrics evolved hitting first serves in the Ad court as well. Nadal typically loves to hit his carving lefty serve out wide in the Ad court. He had to change that to down the T to attack Shapovalov’s backhand return. In Set 3, eight of 12 Ad court first serves were down the T to the backhand return.

Nadal, Ad Court 1st Serve Direction


Wide (to forehand)

Body T (to backhand)
 Set 1   5  2  4
 Set 2  1  4  5
 Set 3  2  2  8

When Nadal served at 0-3, 0/30 in the second set, he directed a second serve to Shapovalov’s backhand return. It didn’t come back in play. Until this moment in the match, Nadal had only won a jaw-dropping 43 per cent of his first serve points, while Shapovalov was at 72 per cent.

At 0-3, 15/30, he again served to the backhand and received a weak return. He dispatched it for a Serve +1 forehand winner and let out a robust “vamos”. A game plan was forming. He went to the backhand return at 30/30 but lost the point. Shapovalov had a break point for a 4-0 lead and Nadal again went at the Shapovalov backhand return. Shapovalov netted a backhand passing shot to lose the point.

Shapovalov then led 3-1, 40/0 serving, but made four backhand rally errors en route to being broken. The match would last for almost two more hours, but the game plan was now crystal clear in Nadal’s mind.

Hawkeye Innovations– Graphic courtesy of Hawk-Eye Innovations/ATP Media

Shapovalov’s average 1st serve return speed in set one was 101 km/h. It slipped to 98 km/h in set three. An even bigger loss of power came against Nadal’s second serve. The Canadian averaged hitting second serve returns at 122 km/h in set one. That dropped to just 113 km/h in set three, mainly due to Shapovalov placing backhand returns instead of ripping forehand returns.

When your empire is crumbling all around you, find your opponent’s backhand.

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Zverev Survives Nishikori, Ready For 'Tough Challenge' Against Nadal

  • Posted: May 13, 2021

Alexander Zverev appeared destined for an early exit in Rome on Thursday evening. But the German battled past World No. 4 Kei Nishikori 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

Last week in Madrid, Zverev only lost five games against Nishikori. At the Foro Italico, however, he needed to claw back from a break down in the decider to set a quarter-final clash against Rafael Nadal after two hours and 53 minutes. 

“I think my aggressive play fits better the altitude, it’s as simple as that,” Zverev said in his on-court interview. “The conditions definitely fit Kei better, but at the end of the day I’m happy with the match… Right now, I’m just happy to be in the quarter-finals.”


It will be a blockbuster rematch, as the sixth seed upset Nadal last week at the Caja Magica en route to lifting his fourth ATP Masters 1000 trophy.

“I think there’s a big difference [in the conditions]. I also think there’s also a difference in our physical state. I think last week and now this match for me is going to come together tomorrow, but I’m going to give it my best,” Zverev told “At the end of the day, he’s one of the biggest competitors in the world and I’m going to try to be one myself tomorrow.”

Zverev has won three consecutive matches against the legendary lefty, claiming all six sets in those clashes. The German likes the challenge of facing the best.

“I enjoy playing against the best players in the world. That’s what you’re here for. That’s what you play tennis for,” Zverev said. “You want to be the best and you want to play against the best. It’s going to be a tough challenge, it’s going to be a tough battle, but I’m also looking forward to it.”

Nishikori was up a break in the third set and saved three break points in one service game, eventually taking a 4-1 lead. Coming back would not be an easy task, as Nishikori ranks third all-time with a 72.8 winning percentage in tour-level deciding sets.

But Zverev raised his level, playing comfortably on defence before stepping into his backhand down the line and short forehands when available. Once the German broke back at 2-4, he was like a runaway train, winning the final five games with play reminiscent of his level in Madrid, where he beat Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Matteo Berrettini en route to the trophy.

The 2017 Rome champion converted five of his 13 break points and won 70 per cent of his first-serve points to advance. 

Nishikori has now lost 11 consecutive matches against Top 10 opponents, with his most recent victory against the elite group coming against Roger Federer at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals.

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Nadal Saves 2 M.Ps., Denies Shapovalov Upset In Rome Thriller

  • Posted: May 13, 2021

Rafael Nadal booked a spot into his 16th quarter-final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in dramatic fashion, having to save match points and rally from a set down in a three-and-a-half hour epic against 13th seed Denis Shapovalov on Thursday.

The nine-time champion trailed by 0-4 in the opening set, 0-3 in the second and saved two match points late in the third set as Shapovalov took control in their third-round clash on Campo Centrale. But Nadal was clutch in the high-pressure moments and steadily raised his level to secure the 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) victory for a spot in the last eight.

“[It] is an important victory for me [to] be able to win matches like today, three hours and 27 [minutes], in the Barcelona final three hours and 38 [minutes], long matches,” said Nadal. “To be able to win these kinds of matches against young players gives me confidence with my body. It’s true that I have to do things better for tomorrow. But the main thing today for me is [to] recover physically.”

The victory extends Nadal’s record to 19-0 against fellow left-handed players – a streak dating back to the 2017 Coupe Rogers in Montreal, when 18-year-old Shapovalov defeated Nadal in their first meeting.


Shapovalov raced out of the blocks and built up a double-break 4-0 lead, dictating with his booming forehand and regularly pulling Nadal out of position. Nadal needed a few games to find his footing, and broke back at 4-2 to cut down arrears, but Shapovalov had him back under pressure again at 5-3. The Canadian broke through once more after winning a marathon game, denying Nadal five chances to close it out and converting his fourth set point when Nadal buried a backhand into the net.

As ATP and WTA players including Jannik Sinner and Kristina Mladenovic packed the stands to witness the potential upset brewing at Campo Centrale, the 13th seed got out to another big lead with an early break in the second set. But Nadal held firm to shake off a point for a double break to make it 3-1. Nadal let out a roar, and the moment marked a turning point in the contest as the Spaniard reeled off four games to take a 5-3 lead – his first lead of the match – and clinched the second set.

Once again Shapovalov opened the third set with a break for 3-1, but this time Nadal capitalised on a shaky service game to get them back on serve straight away. With Shapovalov struggling to find first serves, Nadal created four more break opportunities in the final set. 

The Spaniard was in danger once again as Shapovalov applied the pressure at 6-5, fighting his way to two match points. But a wayward backhand from the Canadian and a forehand winner from Nadal extended his stay in the contest, sending them into a tie-break. Experience marked the difference in the decider as Nadal kept his cool to reel off four points in a row for a 4/1 lead before closing out the victory in three hours and 27 minutes.

“[This] has been a positive victory for me,” Nadal said. “I [fought] until the end a lot to be in quarter-finals. Tomorrow is a chance to play a quarter-final match. I hope to be ready to compete well.”

Into a record-extending 97th quarter-final at the ATP Masters 1000 level, second seed Nadal awaits the winner of Mutua Madrid Open champion Alexander Zverev and former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori next. 

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Arevalo/Middelkoop Save 2 M.P. In Rome

  • Posted: May 13, 2021

Marcelo Arevalo and Matwe Middelkoop needed to save two match points on Thursday to reach the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-finals in Rome.

The alternates recovered from 7/9 down in a Match Tie-break to overcome home favourites Fabio Fognini and Lorenzo Musetti 7-6(4), 6-7(5), 11-9 on Court 2. Arevalo and Middelkoop were unable to convert any of the eight break points they created throughout the match, but they won four straight points to finish the match after one hour and 55 minutes.

The Marbella quarter-finalists will face Wesley Koolhof and Jean-Julien Rojer for a spot in the semi-finals. Koolhof and Rojer rallied from a set down to beat Ariel Behar and Gonzalo Escobar 4-6, 6-3, 10-8.


Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic continued their strong run of form with a 7-6(4), 7-6(2) victory against Marcus Daniell and Philipp Oswald. The Miami and Monte-Carlo champions will meet Adrian Mannarino and Benoit Paire in the quarter-finals. The Frenchmen needed 74 minutes to claim a 6-3, 7-6(2) win against Marcelo Demoliner and Daniil Medvedev.

Defending champions Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos saved a match point to book their place in the last eight. The Madrid titlists trailed their Match Tie-break 9/10 before they reeled off three consecutive points to beat Lukasz Kubot and Franko Skugor 7-5, 4-6, 12-10.

John Peers and Michael Venus upset third seeds Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek 6-1, 7-6(2) to reach the quarter-finals. The unseeded duo, which won three titles last season, saved five of the six break points they faced en route to victory. Peers and Venus will next face eighth seeds Kevin Krawietz and Horia Tecau, who beat Liam Broady and Andy Murray 6-3, 6-4.

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Tsitsipas Takes Out Berrettini, Sets Djokovic Quarter-final

  • Posted: May 13, 2021

In front of passionate crowd on Grand Stand Arena, Stefanos Tsitsipas overcame Italian No. 1 Matteo Berrettini 7-6(3), 6-2 to reach the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-finals.

The fifth seed won seven of his eight net points and capitalised on Berrettini’s low first-serve percentage in the second set (32%) to advance after one hour and 36 minutes. Tsitsipas has reached the quarter-finals at eight of his nine tournament appearances this season. The FedEx ATP Race To Turin leader is through to the last eight in Rome for the second time in four visits to the Foro Italico (2019 SF).


The World No. 5 will face five-time champion Novak Djokovic for a spot in the semi-finals. Djokovic needed just 70 minutes to charge past Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2, 6-1 in the opening match on Centre Court.

Tsitsipas owns a 2-4 ATP Head2Head record against the World No. 1. In the pair’s most recent meeting, Djokovic outlasted Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 to reach last year’s Roland Garros final.

“[Djokovic] has won here a lot of times. I am just expecting to go out there [and] give my best performance,” Tsitsipas said in his post-match interview. “He can play on all surfaces. We played each other at Roland Garros. I see this as an opportunity for me to do something better this time. I hope to be able to play the same tennis that I have been playing so far and be a challenge for him.”

In a first set dominated by serve, Tsitsipas rallied from 1/3 down in the tie-break with six consecutive points. The Greek attacked Berrettini’s forehand and took advantage of consecutive volley errors to move a set from victory.

Tsitsipas piled the pressure on his opponent’s serve early in the second set. The 22-year-old created six break points across his opening two return games, and he broke through at 1-1 to increase his advantage. Tsitsipas closed the match with a second break and a love service hold to improve his ATP Head2Head record against the Madrid runner-up to 2-0.

“I had to deal with very serious business today,” Tsitsipas said. “Matteo was applying a lot of pressure with his serve, being very precise and accurate and that was the most difficult [part] of the match today… In the tie-break, I found my footwork which helped me transform my game and feel more comfortable playing the rallies. I was happy. I fought like I always do. I never gave up. I saw [my] opportunity and grabbed it.”

Berrettini was attempting to reach his second straight quarter-final in his home city. The World No. 9 owns a 10-3 record on clay this season, which includes his title run at the Serbia Open.

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