Rafa Enters Beast Mode

Spanish star ruthless in Rome opener

Seven-time champion Rafael Nadal sent a warning to his rivals on an overcast Wednesday at the Foro Italico in Rome.

The top seed improved to 15-1 on red dirt this season by defeating Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-1, 6-0 in just 61 minutes on Court Centrale at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. He will next challenge Canada's Denis Shapovalov, who won their only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting at the 2017 Roger's Cup.

“It was a positive match, of course,” said Nadal. "It was important, after a loss in Madrid, to come back strong. And that's what I did today. I went on court with the right intensity. I don't know how many mistakes I made, but not many. I also had control, more or less, of a high percentage of the points. That was the way that I want to play.”

Having lost No. 1 in the ATP Rankings to Roger Federer on Monday, Nadal can reclaim the top spot with his eighth trophy at the historic ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament. The Spanish superstar has an outstanding 404-36 (.918) record on clay courts (55 titles), according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone.

The 31-year-old moved into a 5-0 lead, which included a 23-stroke rally on Dzumhur’s serve at 0-3, Ad-Out, that ended with Nadal playing a crosscourt backhand half volley, close to the baseline, only for his opponent to hit a forehand volley into the net. Nadal completed the 34-minute first set with his fourth forehand winner.

It continued to be one-way traffic in the second set, although World No. 31 Dzumhur never gave up in spite of Nadal’s greater power and consistent groundstroke depth. Nadal wrapped up his 19th match win in 21 matches this year with a forehand winner down the line - just like at the end of the first set.

Nadal has already won 11th titles at both the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (d. Nishikori) and the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (d. Tsitsipas).

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Shapovalov continued his recent run of form on clay with a 7-6(3), 6-7(5), 6-3 triumph over Robin Haase.

The Mutua Madrid Open semi-finalist (l. to Zverev) notched his 17th tour-level win this season after two hours and 26 minutes, hitting seven aces and 42 winners to book a meeting with seven-time champion Nadal.

After failing to convert three set points, one at 5-3 and two at 5-4, the Next Gen ATP Finals contender eventually took a one-set advantage after Haase drove his backhand into the net in the tie-break. The second set also required a tie-break after both men saved the only break points they faced in their third service games. But, this time, it was the 31-year-old who held his nerve under pressure. Haase came from 4/5 down, winning consecutive points on Shapovalov's serve before clinching the set on a Shapovalov backhand error.

Shapovalov made the first move in the decider, breaking serve to lead 3-1, but his advantage was short-lived as Haase pegged the 19-year-old back immediately in the following game. Not to be deterred by the disappointment of failing to consolidate his lead, Shapovalov broke once more, forcing Haase behind the baseline and into a forehand error off a deep backhand return. The World No. 29 then wrapped up the win, on his second match point, as Haase's backhand return drifted long.

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