SF Preview: Zverev & Tsitsipas To Complete ATP Masters 1000 Clay-Court Trilogy
Four of the Top 5 men’s singles seeds have advanced to the semi-finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, making for a star-studded semi-final Saturday at the Foro Italico. Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas will meet at that stage for the third time at an ATP Masters 1000 in the past four weeks, while World No. 1 Novak Djokovic goes for his 1,000th tour-level win as he takes on Casper Ruud in a rematch of the 2020 Rome semis.
In doubles action, John Isner continues his bid for a third Masters 1000 title with as many partners as he looks to book his final place alongside first-time partner Diego Schwartzman.
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 Alexander Zverev (GER) vs.  Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)
Zverev and Tsitsipas split their recent semi-final meetings on the European clay, with the German winning a three-setter in Madrid after Tsitsipas dominated in Monte Carlo. Their ATP Head2Head stands at 7-4 in favour of Tsitsipas, including a 3-1 edge for the Greek on clay.
Two of the game’s in-form players enter Saturday’s showdown with a combined 54 match wins on the 2022 season, with Tsitsipas’ 30 pacing the ATP Tour ahead of Carlos Alcaraz’s 28. The 23-year-old has made deep runs at each of the four clay-court events he’s played this year. After defeating Zverev en route to a second straight Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters title, he reached the Barcelona quarter-finals before his progress to the semis at the ATP Masters 1000s in Madrid and Rome.
Tsitsipas this week overtook Rafael Nadal at No. 4 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings and his deep run in Rome ensures that the Greek will rise to No. 4 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on Monday. Tsitsipas reached a career-high of World No. 3 in August 2021.
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Zverev has also been to at least the semis at all three of this season’s clay-court Masters 1000s, including his final run last week in Madrid. The German is a five-time champion at that prestigious level, winning three of those titles on clay. He earned the first of those five titles in Rome in 2017, when he beat Djokovic in the final at the age of 20.
The second seed has not dropped a set on his way to the semis, getting past Sebastian Baez, Alex de Minaur and Cristian Garin in straights. Tsitsipas opened with a pair of three-set wins in Rome, saving two match points in his opening match to beat Grigor Dimitrov in a third-set tie-break. He came back from a set down against Karen Khachanov in the last 16 before overcoming home favourite Jannik Sinner and the Italian crowd, 7-6(5), 6-2, in the semis.
Zverev can move to within 140 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points of World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev by winning his second Rome title.
Both Zverev and Tsitsipas have reached the semi-finals with a relentless attacking gameplan. The German leads the remaining field in the Balance of Power metric, which tells us that he has played 28 per cent of his shots in an attacking position this week in Rome. Tsitsipas is second of the four semi-finalists by that measure at 26 per cent. Looking at the Conversion & Steal rates, the Greek’s 71 per cent conversion rate from attack exceeds Zverev’s 66 per cent mark. Conversely, Zverev has stolen 35 per cent of points from defense, six percentage points higher than his opponent and second only to Djokovic.
Looking ahead to their Saturday showdown, Tsitsipas spoke highly of his rival, who is 16 months his elder.
“We have similar game styles but he is one of the most difficult players to play against on the Tour,” Tsitsipas previewed. “I have a lot of respect for him. He has achieved a lot so far and I try and look up to him with the things he has achieved.”
 Novak Djokovic (SER) vs.  Casper Ruud (NOR)
Djokovic moved up to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings after beating Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarter-finals, already defending 360 of the 600 points he earned as a 2021 Rome finalist. After confirming his stay as World No. 1, he can now turn his attention to earning his 1,000th career win.
The Serbian has not dropped a set in two previous ATP Head2Head meetings with Ruud, scoring wins in the 2020 Rome semi-finals and at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals. After an early exit in Monte Carlo, he worked his way into form by reaching the final in his home city of Belgrade and the semis last week in Madrid.
After dropping just seven games against Aslan Karatsev and Stan Wawrinka in Rome, he passed a stern test against Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarter-finals. In a highlight-filled match of supreme quality from both sides, the Serbian was at his best late in both sets of a 7-5, 7-6(1) victory.
Ruud entered the European clay swing on a high after reaching his first ATP Masters 1000 final in Miami — a hard-court run that surprised even him. But he struggled on his favoured clay ahead of Rome, coming into the Italian capital with just four wins in his previous four events. He’s bounced back brilliantly from an opening-match exit in Madrid by advancing to his fifth Masters 1000 semi-final this week.
“Great quality opponent again,” Djokovic said of the Norwegian. “Clay-court specialist, but he has improved a lot in other surfaces… Just a very hard worker, nice guy.
“We practise a lot and get along well off the court. Tomorrow obviously on the court we want to win against each other, no doubt… Hopefully I can play as well as I did tonight.”
John Isner and Diego Schwartzman will face fellow unseeded duo Andrey Golubev and Maximo Gonzalez on Pietrangeli as they look to extend their undefeated record as a team. The American-Argentine pairing survived a pair of Match Tie-breaks in the opening two rounds before scoring a dominant 6-3, 6-2 win over Harri Heliovaara and Lloyd Glasspool in the quarter-finals.
Currently at a career-high of No. 22 in the Pepperstone ATP Doubles Rankings, Isner is up to No. 22 in the Pepperstone ATP Doubles Live Rankings and could rise as high as No. 18 with the title.
Following Djokovic vs. Ruud on Centre Court, third seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic will close out the evening against Italians Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini. The home favourites won a pair of Match Tie-breaks either side of a walkover to book their semi-final place, battling back from a set and a break down on Friday to edge two-time Roland Garros champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies of Germany, 6-7(3), 6-4, 11-9.
Defending champions Mektic and Pavic have not dropped a set this week and will be confident of claiming their first ATP Tour title of the season as the lone remaining seeds in Rome.