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Djokovic overcomes Koepfer to set up Ruud semi-final in Rome

“Clay is definitely Casper’s preferred surface. This is where he feels most comfortable. It’s semi-finals and it’s anybody’s game,” said Djokovic, who will be targeting his 30th victory from 31 matches this year.

“I’ll do some homework and be ready for that one.”

Rafael Nadal’s first tournament in seven months ended with a 6-2, 7-5 loss to Diego Schwartzman.

Rafael Nadal is out of the tournament.

Rafael Nadal is out of the tournament.Credit:AP

Nadal, a nine-time champion in Rome, had never lost to the 15th-ranked Schwartzman in nine previous meetings. But Schwartzman dictated the baseline rallies and produced a series of drop-shot winners as Nadal uncharacteristically made unforced errors and struggled to get his first serve into play.

For two months during the lockdown, Nadal said, he didn’t touch a tennis racket.

“It’s a completely special year – an unpredictable year,” Nadal said. “At least I played three matches.”

While Nadal won his opening two matches this week in straight sets, his rustiness showed from the start against Schwartzman.

Nadal committed nearly twice as many unforced errors as Schwartzman, 30 to 17, and won only 29 of 63 points on his serve, resulting in five breaks.

“Losing that many serves you can’t expect to win a match,” Nadal said. “So something that I have to fix. I know how to do it.”

Schwartzman will meet Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who beat Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 for his 100th tour-level match win.

In the women’s draw, 2018 French Open champion Simona Halep advanced to the semis when her opponent Yulia Putintseva retired due to a lower back injury while trailing 6-2, 2-0.

Simona Halep advanced to the semi-finals.

Simona Halep advanced to the semi-finals.Credit:AP

The top-seeded Romanian will now meet Spain’s ninth seed Garbine Muguruza, who survived an early scare against Victoria Azarenka to beat the US Open runner-up 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Halep said: “Every time I played well against her [Muguruza], I was as much as possible aggressive.

“If I play my best game, and if I feel great physically on court, I have a big chance to win the match. But every time is different, because she’s playing so hard. You don’t really know what to expect. It’s tough.”

Two-time Rome champion and fourth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who skipped the US Open to prepare for the claycourt swing, was stunned by Czech Marketa Vondrousova 6-3, 6-0.

No.12 seed Vondrousova will play compatriot Karolina Pliskova in the semis after the defending champion survived a mid-match scare to beat Belgium’s Elise Mertens 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.

Reuters

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