Competing in 12 semi-finals of the Masters 1000 is a good achievement that puts you in a position to chase at least a couple of titles at the premium level of the ATP. Playing the last four in a single Masters 1000 event 12 times makes you the legend of the tournament and secures you a place in the history books, as only two players have done so far.
Rafael Nadal is the group leader with 14 semi-finals in Monte Carlo, with the Spaniard and Novak Djokovic securing the 12th semi-final of the Masters 1000 in Rome two weeks ago. Thus, Novak became the second player with at least 12 semi-finals in a single Masters 1000 tournament, while Nadal extended his dominance and stayed on top with two such achievements.
Nadal got off to a winning start at the Foro Italico after a hard-fought 7-5, 6-4 victory over Jannik Sinner. Rafa lost serve three times against the young Italian and pursued the result in both sets. Using his experience and determination to avoid another early exit like in Monte Carlo and Madrid, Nadal overcame two handicaps in the first set and rallied from a 4-2 deficit in set number two to advance to the knockout stages.
The Spaniard had to fight Denis Shapovalov in the third round, prevailing 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 after saving two epic match points. Nadal trailed 6-3, 3-0, 40-30 and remained calm to steal the second set and prolong the match. Starting over and leaving the second set behind, the Canadian kept fighting back and built the lead in a decider before Nadal rallied and got back on the bright side.
Shapovalov saved break opportunities at 5-5 and won those two match points in Game 12, wasting both and allowing Rafa to seal the deal in the tie break. In the quarterfinals, Rafa needed two hours to fire Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4, avenging the defeat at the Madrid Open and advancing to the 75th semi-final of the Masters 1000.
In his most relaxed match of the week, Rafa defeated Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4 in his 12th Rome Open semi-final, staying on track for the title and setting up the title clash against Novak Djokovic.
Wilander on Rafael Nadal's aura
Mats Wilander believes Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are beginning to lose their grip on the sport in the face of the NextGen's steady rise.
Wilander also reckons that some of the younger players could give Nadal and Djokovic a difficult time in the early rounds of the French Open this year. "Novak and Rafa look more vulnerable each year,” Wilander said.
“The younger guys are hitting the ball so hard on both sides, they have big serves and they are taking a bit of Rafa and Novak’s confidence away from them." Turning his attention to the upcoming French Open, Wilander claimed that Rafael Nadal's aura of invincibility could take a hit if a younger player takes him the distance.
"There is a chance that a younger player can take a chunk out of Nadal’s confidence in the first round and even if he comes through, that could leave him lacking a little belief," added the Swede. "Then he could get bullied around in his next match and if he doesn’t have any easy matches, his confidence may be shaken by the time he gets to the final."