Saturday, September 19, 2020

Schwartzman shocks Nadal; Italian has Ruud awakening

Rafael Nadal lost to Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 7-5 today in the Italian Open
quarterfinals in Rome. Nadal, who was seeking his third straight title in the
tournament and 10th overall, had been 9-0 against the diminutive Schwartz-
man. File photo by Mal Taam
   Raise your hand if you saw this one coming.
   In a monumental upset, eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina defeated second-seeded Rafael Nadal 6-2, 7-5 today to reach the Italian Open semifinals in Rome for the second consecutive year.
   They are the only two semifinal appearances in a Masters 1000 tournament, the highest level besides the Grand Slams, in the 28-year-old Schwartzman's career.
   Nadal has won nine Italian Open titles, including the last two, and had been 9-0 against the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter), 141-pound (64-kilogram) Schwartzman.
   Today's second set featured five consecutive service breaks until Schwartzman held serve for the match on his second attempt.
   "For sure, it's my best match ever," Schwartzman said on "I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today. I'm very happy."
    The second-ranked Nadal, 34, was playing in his first tournament since winning Acapulco for the third time in February. He chose not to play in the U.S. Open because of coronavirus concerns.
   The 15th-ranked Schwartzman is scheduled to play 14th-ranked Denis Shapovalov of Canada for the first time on Sunday not before 10 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel).
   Shapovalov, a 21-year-old left-hander seeded 12th, beat 15th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in the Battle of (One-Handed) Backhands. Shapovalov reached his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal in the recent U.S. Open.
   Meanwhile, both No. 4 seeds lost to 21-year-olds in contrasting fashion.
   Unseeded Casper Ruud of Norway edged Matteo Berrettini, the last remaining Italian, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in 2 hours, 57 minutes in Rome to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal.
   On the women's side, 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic dismissed Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, the 2017 and 2018 Italian Open champion, 6-3, 6-0 in 1 hour, 20 minutes.
   Ruud, a semifinalist in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger in 2018 at 19, improved to 12-2 on clay this year. He reached two finals in three tournaments on the South American swing in February, winning his first ATP title in Buenos Aires and finishing as the runner-up in Santiago.
   Ranked a career-high No. 34, Ruud has surpassed his father Christian, who peaked at No. 39 in 1995.
   Berrettini, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was attempting to become only the second Italian to reach the Rome semifinals since 2000. Filippo Volandri advanced to the semis in 2007.
   Ruud is set to take on top-ranked Novak Djokovic for the first time on Sunday not before 5 a.m. PDT. Djokovic, who won the last of his four Italian Open titles in 2015, topped German qualifier Dominik Koepfer, the runner-up in the $81,240 Aptos, Calif., Challenger last year, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to improve to 29-1 this year.
   Djokovic, who was defaulted from his fourth-round match in the U.S. Open, smashed his racket on the clay court after he was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3.
   "It's not the first nor the last racket that I'll break in my career," Djokovic, who received a warning from the chair umpire, told reporters. "I've done it before, and I'll probably do it again. I don't want to do it, but when it comes, it happens. 
   "That's how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger, and it's definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don't encourage that — definitely."
   Before the Italian Open, the left-handed Vondrousova had only two wins in seven tournaments since reaching the Adelaide quarterfinals in January in her first event of the year. She advanced to last year's French Open final, losing to Ashleigh Barty. After falling in the first round at Wimbledon three weeks later, Vondrousova underwent left-wrist surgery and missed the last half of 2019.
   Vondrousova, ranked No. 19, is set to face fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova, the second seed and defending champion, on Sunday not before 7 a.m. Pliskova, a former world No. 1 and the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, outplayed 11th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.
  Pliskova defeated Vondrousova 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of last year's Miami Open on a hardcourt in their only previous meeting.
   In Sunday's other women's semifinal, top-seeded Simona Halep is scheduled to meet ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza at 3 a.m.
   Halep, the Rome runner-up in 2017 and 2018, beat unseeded Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, 6-2, 2-0 (retired, lower back) for her 12th consecutive victory and 17th in her last 18 matches.
   Muguruza outlasted unseeded Victoria Azarenka, the U.S. Open runner-up to Naomi Osaka, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of two-time Grand Slam singles champions and former world No. 1s.
   Both Muguruza and Azarenka won doubles titles in the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic, and Azarenka won the singles crown at Stanford 10 years ago.
   Muguruza is 4-2 against Halep, but the Romanian has won both clay-court clashes. The players have much in common, although the 6-foot (1.82-meter) Muguruza is six inches (15.2 centimeters) taller. Halep also has been ranked No. 1 and won two majors, the same ones as Muguruza (the French Open and Wimbledon).

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