When he guesses the intention of Alexander Zverev, who throws him a left to try to close the point, Rafael Nadal activates the turbo and puts all the horses in his legs to work. They are not few, so in four strides he has already hit a significant acceleration and draws a straight line to the sprint until when he goes to slip, his left support hooks him on the line that delimits the service box, badly nailed, and ends hitting a costalada de aúpa. The Mallorcan, covered in sand, hurts on the ground and from his box they watch him with concern. His wife puts her hands on her head, it’s ten seconds of uncertainty. But luckily the ankle and hip are fine. Thumbs up. Nadal gets up. Go on, fight, suffer, hit. And finally he wins: 6-3 and 6-4, in exactly two hours.
It is the photo of the access to the semifinals. The fright of a dog-face duel with the German, who started lazy and then, when he was four games behind and not far from taking a good blush in the first set, leaves fatigue and excuses to a side and goes to war. It is not late, but in front of him he runs into a Nadal who always attends with the lesson well learned, and who the day before had already said that the story was going to be different from what had happened in the Caja Mágica in Madrid. That day, the German’s ball flew and soared in the services up to 230 kilometers per hour; this time, the conditions of the Foro Italico limit speed and give control to the Spanish’s intelligent tennis, who hits with gusto and opens up angles, going deep with the right hand and cutting with the backhand.
Nadal is enjoying himself, although there is no truce. Zverev’s arreón arrives, and with 5-3 and 30-15 the episode of the stumble. Elegant, the German, recent champion in the Spanish capital, dodges the net with his two stilts to be interested in the rival, who appreciates the gesture and hurts. Upon rejoining, the champion of 20 majors grits his teeth and runs into an emergency situation, but he solves it; dodge that option break and press to take the set and mark distances. Neither one loosen. Nadal (34 years old) does not let go of the helm of command of the party and Zverev (23), increasingly mature in his game, more resilient, proposes a nice resistance from his backhand. The consequence is a voltaic give and take, not suitable for intermediate attitudes.
He takes aim at the Balearic Islands and expresses himself with his eyes: if you want it, you’re going to have to earn it. And the one from Manacor meets the challenge and sharpens his gaze. Nadal continues to climb steps and after overcoming two very tough crosses, he raises the tone to take over a victory that takes more shape in the third game of the continuation, when he disrupts a 0-40 and then, in the fifth, he enlarges to transform a 40-15 in a break. Along the way, another line, this time in a corridor, once again blocks the Spaniard’s foot, who is rightly pissed off and laments: “Like this all the time …”. The judge shrugs, picks up the protest, and the action continues. Nadal drops a warning for being late in the serve and Zverev does not give up. The boy from Hamburg does not turn his face to the game at any time and tries to burst every ball. Resists with good arguments, but falls like ripe fruit. The ones in front are more forceful. The Majorcan progresses with a very significant jump.
There are nine balls of break saves and a significant stretch with the right. Shield and throw to face the penultimate season of the tournament, in which he will face the giant of the circuit, Reilly Opelka (7-5 and 7-6 (2) to Federico Delbonis). The American, a 2.11-tall Bigard who is ranked 47th on the world list, will appear on Saturday knowing that the eleven previous times that Nadal stepped into the semifinals in Rome, he did not fail.