Novak Djokovic takes thriller over Rafael Nadal in Rome

Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse/Icon Sportswire
Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse/Icon Sportswire

Rome finished the work week with a flurry of action and headlines. Here’s where the tournament stands going into the weekend:

-In their first meeting on clay since last year’s French Open, Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal for the seventh straight time. Nadal was up 4-2 in the first and 5-3 in the second, with five set points to force a third, but it was Djokovic who came up big on the important points and prevailing, 7-5, 7-6 (4).

Heading into the French Open, the result should leave both players pleased, as well as their fanbases. Djokovic continues to play sterling tennis while Nadal benefited from a progress report that proved he has certainly narrowed the gap, logic that he echoed in his press conference. Nadal’s failings on set point were mostly on his own racket (including one ill-fated dropshot in a match where he hit them well otherwise), which means it’s in his control to keep improving.

Though both have played better matches, the levels these two push each other to continues to astound. Points like this one are why the match drew “match of the year” chatter despite the lack of a deciding set:

-Just as in Madrid, Djokovic will face Kei Nishikori in the semifinals. Nishikori overcame a second set injury timeout to dismiss Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 7-5. Thiem simply made too many errors to contend with Nishikori’s consistency.

-Andy Murray got broken in the second set more than he would have liked…

…but ultimately scored a comfortable 6-1, 7-5 win over David Goffin. In the semifinals, Murray will face fast-rising Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who gained 180 rankings points (and a seed at his home country major) without playing a point on Friday. Veteran Juan Monaco had a bump in the road in his comeback and was forced to withdraw from his quarterfinal against Pouille with a hip injury.

-The losses by Nadal, Goffin and Thiem solidified the French Open seeding. Unless Roger Federer withdraws due to his back injury:

Seeds 1-4 (Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Wawrinka) will each draw a 13-16 seed in the round of 16 (Goffin, Monfils, Thiem, Bautista Agut) and a 5-8 seed in the quarterfinals (Nadal, Nishikori, Tsonga, Berdych). That 5-8 group will draw a 9-12 seed in the round of 16 (Raonic, Gasquet, Cilic Ferrer). Oddly enough, the 13-16 group is significantly tougher on clay than the 9-12 quartet.

-Serena Williams submitted her best performance in months, avenging her Miami defeat against Svetlana Kuznetsova in under an hour, 6-2, 6-0. She’ll be a gargantuan favorite against unseeded Irina-Camelia Begu in the semifinals. Begu beat Misaki Doi in a matchup of 25 year olds making a mid-career push up the rankings.

-The bottom half features a much more even semifinal. Garbine Muguruza played a fantastic match in beating Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-2, and will meet fellow powerhouse Madison Keys, who showed some maturity in knocking out Barbora Strycova, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

-French Open ramifications on the women’s side: Bacsinszky’s loss will keep her outside the top eight seeds if Belinda Bencic can return from her back injury. The end of Kuznetsova’s Rome run places her in the 13-16 group for Paris (and also ensures that Flavia Pennetta will return to the top 10 despite retiring at the end of 2015.)

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