The upset bug hit the women early in Rome, and now it’s crossed over to the men. Nearly every big name was tested and not all of them passed. Here’s how Thursday played out in Rome:
-Roger Federer’s tempered expectations were proven correct as he lost to Dominic Thiem, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Federer was clearly compromised, even walking to his chair before the final point of a game was over because his return was so meek. Ultimately, he still has a while to be right before his real targets at Wimbledon and the Rio Olympics, but that his knee rehab has caused a compensation injury to his cranky back is concerning. See here for more on Federer discussing his chances of missing the French Open
-Though Thiem didn’t look all that great, he gets a pass for the strange circumstance of facing an injured opponent. His quarterfinal matchup against Kei Nishikori (who beat Richard Gasquet for the second time in as many weeks) will be a telling test for both.
-Defending French Open champ Stan Wawrinka followed his Davis Cup teammate and occasional doubles partner out the door, losing to 32 year old clay-courter Juan Monaco, who delivered his most emphatic victory since returning from injury. With the 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 loss, Wawrinka has now been bounced prior to the quarters in five of the six top tournaments of the year thus far, and his lone quality showing saw him fail to match Rafael Nadal’s intensity at the Monte-Carlo Masters. Similar to Nadal in 2015, Wawrinka admitted to feeling nerves and that low confidence has affected him in clutch moments.
-Speaking of Nadal, he won the match of the day, overcoming a shaky tiebreaker to beat Nick Kyrgios, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-4. Nadal immediately course corrected in the second, going up a break and taking charge of rallies. He kept knocking on the door to start the third and eventually broke it down with an early break. Most importantly, he confidently handled the lead the rest of the way without getting tight. The 15 break points Nadal generated against Kyrgios are the most that the young Aussie has faced in a best-of-3 ATP level match.
-Nadal fulfilled his end of a potential blockbuster quarterfinal matchup, though for a bit it appeared Novak Djokovic wouldn’t hold up his end. In under half an hour, Djokovic kicked off the night session by getting bageled at the hands of Thomaz Bellucci. The Brazilian was lights out while Djokovic couldn’t keep the ball in play. It took a few games into the second set, but order was restored and the World No. 1 prevailed, 0-6, 6-3, 6-2. Nadal and Djokovic will face each other for the 49th time on Friday, with the Spaniard seeking his first win since the 2014 French Open final.
-Serena Williams saved a set point and squeaked out a first set tiebreaker before cruising to the win against Christina McHale. She’ll play Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarters, a follow-up to Kuznetsova’s stunning upset in Miami a couple months back. Garbine Muguruza, Madison Keys and Barbora Strycova (over Genie Bouchard) rolled, with Muguruza’s match with Timea Bacsinszky serving as the most important non-Serena event on Friday for the women.
-While the top half of the men’s bracket is stacked, it’s Andy Murray and a bunch of upsets on the bottom half. He faces David Goffin in the quarterfinals after Goffin smoked Tomas Berdych, 6-0, 6-0, just the fourth time a top 10 man has eaten a double bagel. It’s been a rough 2016 for Berdych and David Ferrer, who lost again to emerging Frenchman Lucas Pouille. Monaco and Pouille will battle, with the winner somehow being a Masters 1000 semifinalist.
-French Open update: Nothing significant changed on Thursday for the women. For the men, Ferrer drops out of the top 10 for the first time since 2010 and will be 12th, at best, for Paris. Berdych lost but should be able to hang on for that precious 8 seed. Wawrinka’s loss makes the math simple: If Nadal wins Rome, he’ll nab that all-important 4 seed. Federer’s loss formalizes Murray as the 2 seed, which was a foregone conclusion. Juan Martin del Potro announced he’ll skip Paris for one more year to focus on grass.