• 20 men’s singles matches played on Thursday after Wednesday wash-out from
• Djokovic, Nadal and Federer among seeds to play twice in one day to reach quarter-finals
• Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic fall at first hurdle; Fognini keeps Italian flag flying
It was regarded as a red-letter day, the kind of schedule that happens with decreasing frequency as the stars in question advance into their 30s, pick up the odd injury, and are permitted to pick and choose how often they play.
And yet, just days later, the unexpected happened again, as the stars aligned once more, this time in Rome. All the more unexpected, because Roger Federer, who surprised many with his return to clay this summer after a three-year absence, had committed only to play in Madrid—but then threw his hat into the Rome ring rather than return to the inclement weather in Switzerland.
He had, he said, practised for weeks after Miami: “I was in the mood to play… There would be more excitement than me coming to a practice court in Switzerland.”
Perhaps he would have viewed things differently had he anticipated how the weather would impact on Rome, and on the big-time schedule that promised the big three all together on the same day on the same court.
For it rained—and how it rained: all day, all evening, washing out the entire Wednesday schedule. Federer had likely been at the Foro Italico since around 8am until the plug was pulled at around 6.30 in the evening. Djokovic, scheduled for the evening, perhaps fewer hours but with his stay later into the night.
The knock-on for the three—and indeed for all but four of the men remaining in the singles draw—was two matches in a single day, both Round 2 and Round 3. Beyond that, for the successful ones, there would be quarters, semis and finals on consecutive days—so five matches in four days. It meant that, for those lucky enough to have tickets for Wednesday and Thursday, a total of 20 singles men’s matches.
And spare a thought for the handful of men who had also opted into the doubles draw. Four of them could play as many as three matches on Thursday, among them Diego Schwartzman, who won his opening singles match against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, plus Denis Shapovalov and Fernando Verdasco, who were paired with each other in doubles.
Verdasco, in fact, accounted for the first big scalp of the day, with a three-set win over No5 seed Dominic Thiem. Shapovalov, however, had the formidable task of first trying to beat four-time Rome champion, world No1 Djokovic on Centre Court, and it was over in 66 minutes as the Serb raced to a 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Indeed each of the three stars wasted little time in making their way into the third round, and all of them showed outstanding form in doing so.
Federer’s opener drew much attention, for this was his first match in Rome since 2016, in one of the few Masters events he has never won—though he is a four-time finalist. But the Swiss star’s age—he is on his way to his 38th birthday—combined with a lack to match-play on clay since knee surgery blighted his 2016 season, made his opener a curiosity.
He was a little slow out of the blocks, but after saving two break points in the fourth game, his serve and forehand began to click. However, it was his speed and movement that most impressed.
Federer soon threatened the serve of Joao Sousa in the fifth game, and then threw in a stunning seventh game, defending the full width of the baseline, racing to pick up a drop shot for a winner, and then pummelling a series of forehands to get the break, 4-3. The Italian fans stood as one to cheer the effort and the reward.
Sousa, though, was not disheartened, and continued to play to a high level. His pace and depth worked 0-40 on the next Federer serve, but to no avail, as the Swiss level soared for a run of five points, the last another extraordinary defensive sprint between the margins of the tramlines finished with a running forehand cross-court winner.
It elicited a standing ovation, yet Sousa remained courageous, went for his angled drives, and held off break points: Federer would have to serve out the set. He did so to love, with an ace, his 17th winner of the 40-minute set.
Federer’s forehand continued to shine, backed ably by a couple of ripping backhands, to break at the start of the second set. A love hold and it was 4-2, and on a fifth match-point, Federer’s defence again paid dividends: a sliced angled return drew a final error from Sousa for the win, 6-3.
Meanwhile, eight-time champion Nadal took just 26 minutes to batter Jeremy Chardy through a 6-0 first set at the furthest end of the Foro, in the ultra-modern Grandstand arena—not the usual venue for any of the three top men. And an impressive second set completed the rout: Nadal served out the win after 67 minutes, 6-1.
Nadal would swap courts with Federer and Djokovic for their second matches—indeed every man would be shunted to a different court for their subsequent matches. But that would be later. In the interim, three Italian players set the entire Foro abuzz with anticipation.
Fabio Fognini, who won his first Masters in Monte Carlo, was on the verge of breaking the top 10, but he first had to beat Radu Albot on the famed Pietrangeli stadium.
Marco Cecchinato, ranked 19 and with three clay titles to his name, faced Philipp Kohlschreiber on Court 2. And Matteo Berrettini, ranked 33 and with two clay titles, faced Schwartzman on Grandstand.
Cecchinato was the first to fall, leaving Kohlschreiber to take on Djokovic after Federer’s second match. Then Berrettini lost out to Schwartzman, 6-3, 6-4: the Argentine would line up against Kei Nishikori or Jan-Lennard Struff. It all came down to Fognini for the home crowd, and he did the job, 7-6(6), 6-3, with Stefanos Tsitsipas next in line.
But there was still a lot of work ahead for all of them
Juan Martin del Potro beat David Goffin, 6-4, 6-2
Casper Ruud beat Nick Kyrgios, by default in the third set
Struff beat Marin Cilic, 6-2, 6-3
Nishikori beat Taylor Fritz, 6-2, 6-4
Tsitsipas beat Jannik Sinner, 6-3, 6-2
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge