Nadal follows Djokovic into Rome quarters after epic fightback

By Sports Desk May 13, 2021

Rafael Nadal was forced to work hard to avoid becoming the biggest scalp in the last 16 at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Thursday.

Rival Novak Djokovic had already sealed his progress earlier in the day, beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in dominant fashion, but Nadal found life hard against Denis Shapovalov.

The Spaniard has already uncharacteristically lost twice on clay courts this season and was heading for a third as he trailed Shapovalov 3-6 0-3.

Even after Nadal recovered to take the second set, he faced two match points in the decider, battling bravely to a vital hold of serve that took the match well beyond the three-hour mark and into a tie-break.

There, Nadal finally took control, running out a 3-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3) winner to reach the last eight and gain some much-needed minutes on the court.

"It's an important victory for me [to] be able to win matches like today, three hours and 27, in the Barcelona final three hours and 38, long matches," said Nadal.

"To be able to win these kinds of matches against young players gives me confidence with my body."

There had been no such test for Djokovic in his 6-2 6-1 rout, although the world number one felt that was in part due to his improving form.

"I thought I played better, at least 20 or 30 per cent better, than I did against [Taylor] Fritz a few days ago," he said. "I am on a good trajectory and hopefully tomorrow will be even better."

Djokovic will face fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas next after his straight-sets defeat of Matteo Berrettini.

For Nadal, Alexander Zverev is a similarly tricky opponent having come through three sets against Kei Nishikori.

But not every seed made it through, as Dominic Thiem succumbed to the last remaining home hopeful in Lorenzo Sonego, a dramatic 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-5) victor.

A meeting with Andrey Rublev is the Italian's reward, while there will be at least one unseeded player in the last four as Federico Delbonis prepares to take on Reilly Opelka.

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    Ons Jabeur urged the youth of Africa to believe they can make it all the way to Wimbledon as the Tunisian booked her place in the quarter-finals for a second successive year.

    The 27-year-old is the new title favourite, following Iga Swiatek's third-round exit, as she chases a maiden grand slam title.

    Jabeur was made to work hard for a 7-6 (11-9) 6-4 victory over Belgian Elise Mertens on Sunday, but she has still yet to drop a set.

    Next for Jabeur is Czech player Marie Bouzkova, the world number 66, and she is relishing her role as a trailblazer for African and Arab women.

    "I enjoy sometimes failing and succeeding after. It's amazing," Jabeur said. "I wish I could really give the message to the young generation, not just from my country but from the African continent.

    "I want to see more players here, I want them to believe more in themselves and believe that they can be here. I don't come from a rich family, so you have to really stop finding excuses and go for it, just be yourself and enjoy playing tennis."

    World number two Jabeur is the only Tunisian ranked inside the WTA top 700. This is her fifth Wimbledon, and last year's run to the last eight was her best performance at that point, with Aryna Sabalenka preventing her going any further.

    Now she has the title in her sights.

    "It's amazing to be here and hopefully I can continue," she said in an on-court interview. "I love playing on grass. I love the connection between nature and me, so hopefully it will continue this way for me and maybe through to the finals."

    Mertens beat former champion Angelique Kerber in round three, and against Jabeur on Court One she battled from an early 3-1 deficit to force the opening-set tie-break.

    It was exhilarating at that point, and Jabeur was relieved to win the breaker, fearing she might not have the wherewithal to come back from dropping the set.

    Mertens beat Jabeur in round three at the US Open last year, so the threat she posed was clear.

    "She's a great opponent really. It's never easy to play her, and I had to dig deep, very deep, in the tie-break," Jabeur said. "I couldn't imagine myself playing three sets against her."

  • Wimbledon: Sinner labels Alcaraz triumph one of his best after sinking Spanish star's hopes Wimbledon: Sinner labels Alcaraz triumph one of his best after sinking Spanish star's hopes

    Jannik Sinner said his win over Carlos Alcaraz ranked among the highlights of his young career after reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals with an impressive 6-1 6-4 6-7 (8-10) 6-3 victory.

    The 20-year-old Italian converted his sixth match point of an enthralling encounter on Centre Court to reach his third grand slam quarter-final.

    The contest had been billed as a clash between two of the sport's future superstars, with their combined age the lowest in a fourth-round grand slam match since Juan Martin del Potro faced Kei Nishikori at the 2008 US Open.

    At 19 years and 66 days old, Alcaraz had become the youngest male player to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon since 2011, and Sinner was keen to credit his opponent after a battle which lasted three hours and 35 minutes.

    "First of all, Carlos is a very tough opponent and a very nice person, so it's always a huge pleasure for me to play against him," Sinner said.

    "Today was such a great crowd and especially today, 100 years [since Centre Court opened]… it's just amazing.

    "It's tough when you have match point and you still have to play. It's part of the game, part of tennis, and obviously I'm very happy with how I reacted.

    "I'm very happy to be in the next round, and hopefully I can play some good tennis also in the next round."

    Sinner, who boasts a 5-0 record against Spanish players in 2022, was asked where the triumph ranked among the best moments of his career.

    He said: "In the top list, for sure. I didn't expect it because I was not playing so well on the grass.

    "Then match after match I was better, I won my first grass-court match here in the first round, and now I'm here in the quarter-finals. I tried to adapt myself and the crowd helps me a lot."

    Sinner had previously lost four fourth-round meetings with top-10 players at grand slams, being beaten by Alexander Zverev at the 2020 French Open and 2021 US Open, Rafael Nadal at the 2021 French Open, and Andrey Rublev at Roland Garros last month.

    Sinner also improved his 2022 record against top-10 opponents to 2-5 with the victory, with his only previous win coming against Rublev at the Monte Carlo Masters.

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    Heather Watson praised Jule Niemeier's "flawless" performance after seeing her best Wimbledon run ended by the German in a straight-sets last-16 reverse.

    Watson was beaten 6-2 6-4 by Niemeier on the 100th anniversary of Centre Court's opening, as the home favourite fell short of a first career grand slam quarter-final appearance.

    Niemeier's win set up a last-eight clash with compatriot Tatjana Maria, as two German female players reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals in the same year for just the fifth time since 1987.

    In her post-match news conference, Watson lauded her opponent's display and said she will eventually look back on her run to the fourth round with pride. 

    "Immediately after walking off the court, I was obviously extremely disappointed. I've taken every match here as a big opportunity and managed to take advantage of it until today," she said.

    "But credit to my opponent. I felt like she played really well, especially in that first set. Very flawless tennis. 

    "She served big, which was a big difference today, I felt like I was always reacting to her ball. I was not on the front foot like I was in my other matches.

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    "I'll look back and be proud of myself for this week, but right now I'm disappointed."

    Niemeier became the fourth-youngest German woman to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals in the Open Era, with only Bettina Bunge, Steffi Graf and Sabine Lisicki doing so at a younger age.

    The 22-year-old recognised the significance of winning on the day of Centre Court's centenary celebrations, after the likes of Roger Federer and Billie Jean King spoke during a parade of former champions, and even apologised to fans for eliminating a home hopeful.

    "I didn't want to watch the show before the match because I was pretty nervous and I saw all the players, so I didn't want to see it. But of course, it's a special place, it's one of the biggest courts on Tour," she said.

    "The court is so beautiful, and I feel honoured I had the chance to play on Centre Court.

    "I just want to say sorry that I had to kick out a British player today!"

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