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Rafael Nadal of Spain returns the ball to Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Thursday, May 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Rafael Nadal of Spain returns the ball to Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Thursday, May 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)|Associated Press
Tennis

Italian Open Men’s Quarterfinals: Abrams picks Nadal v Verdasco, Tsitsipas v Federer, Djokovic v del Potro, Nishikori v Schwartzman

Matches start at 7:30 am EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Internazionali BNL d’Italia
Rome, Italy
Friday, May 17, 2019
Men’s Singles Quarterfinals

Yesterday, on a day when the Italian Open had to make up for a full day of rainouts, in which the men’s Big Three all played, in which the women’s second seed, Simona Halep, went out, in which Roger Federer played and won two singles matches at 37-years-old and saved two match points in his second match, in which hometown hero Fabio Fognini got the help of 3,500 Italian fans and couldn’t hold off a 20-year-old opponent, the biggest news was made by Aussie Nick Kyrgios by not even playing! If today is anything like yesterday, I don’t see how the French Open can possibly top it for raw emotion, fun, and scintillating tennis excitement.

Kyrgios, the talented, yet tormented, genius with a racket, let his ugly side slip out at 1-1 in the third against Casper Rudd, and turned into Lucifer as he yelled and complained, received a game penalty, argued with fans, yelled at the umpire, kicked bottles and miscellaneous equipment, gave his best Bobby Knight impression as he tossed a chair out onto the dust of Foro Italico, gathered his rackets and things, and walked off the court to thunderous boos from the surprised Italian fans. Lest he forget his sportsmanship, he did manage to shake hands with his opponent and the umpire, but the fallout from this display will be severe and costly. Initially, Kyrgios will forfeit the prize money he would have won (second round losers are paid 33,635 Euros, third round losers get 64,225 Euros), will have to pay for the hotel that started out the week comped for competitors, and will no doubt be fined as the investigation as to what really went on in his twisted mind gets sorted out. He will probably receive a stiff fine, a suspension, and another directive to get emotional help, which, not only does he need, but should really help him. About the only good thing I can say about Kyrgios’ breakdown was that it showed he wanted to win, as he has, correctly, been condemned for his occasional weak will to compete. And if that wasn’t enough, Kyrgios gave an interview prior to the match in which he severely criticized both Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the top two ranked men’s players in the world.

This might not have been the best time to criticize these guys, as Rafa finished his match with Jeremy Chardy by losing only one game, and followed that up with a clinic against Nikoloz Basilashvili which he won 6-1, 6-0. Djokovic, for his part, tuned Canadian Denis Shapovalov 1 and 3, and then ran over Philip Kohlschreiber, who had beaten the world No. 1 recently at Indian Wells, 6-3, 6-0. Roger Federer, now ranked No. 3, beat Joao Sousa 4 and 3 and then won a barnburner from Borna Coric 2-6, 6-4, 7-6. In that second match against Coric, Federer was down in the third set tiebreaker 5-3, facing two match points against, and ran off four straight points when Coric appeared to get stiff and made some errors that allowed The Fed to move into today’s quarterfinals.

And so, after a day for the ages, today the quarterfinals present some very appealing matchups, and the Italian fans simply add to the excitement as they have responded to situations like the astute, loud, wonderful tennis fans that they are.

Rafa Nadal over Fernando Verdasco
Rafa’s pissed. How else do you explain that after two matches he’s only given up two games? If this is how he needs to play to show that he’s a real threat to win the French again, then he’s doing a great job of scaring the rest of the field. Verdasco has had a really great week taking out three tough players, all in three tough sets: Kyle Edmund, Dominic Thiem, and Karen Khachanov. But his run is over. If Rafa is putting on a display to make a statement, I say statement made. Good luck, Fernando. And may God bless your soul.

Stefanos Tsitsipas over Roger Federer
If Federer had drawn any other quarterfinalist that his seed would have allowed (del Potro, Schwartzman, Struff, Nishikori, or Verdasco) I would pick The Fed to move on. But I think, quite frankly, Tsitsipas has his number. First, Federer is not playing all that well. Sure, he’s winning, but he’s struggling, and he’s not running away from opponents like Rafa and Nole. Okay, I’ll give him the extra credit he deserves for beating an opponent who is 22-years-old, and who was playing his first, not his second, match of the day. Federer’s win over Coric really needs to be applauded. But Federer could have, and should have, lost that match. And second, Tsitsipas has already shown that he can beat The Fed, by beating him in the Australian Open when it really counted, so he will not be awed by playing a living legend. Furthermore, Tsitsipas has also beaten both Rafa and Nole this year, so this guy has wins over the Top Three—something that very few players can say they’ve done, and he’s done it at the age of 20.

Novak Djokovic over Juan Martin del Potro
I’m thrilled to see del Potro back in the quarters here after straight set wins over David Goffin and Casper Ruud. I even saw him hit a topspin backhand, something that I haven’t seen in years from him, and that I was convinced after all his injuries and surgeries he was no longer able to do. But let’s face it: Nole is 15-4 against the popular Argentine, and that’s all she wrote.

Kei Nishikori over Diego Schwartzman
Schwartzman has already had a terrific tournament having taken out Yoshihito Nishioka, Albert Ramos-Vinolas (who beat Gael Monfils), and Matteo Berrettini (who beat Sascha Zverev). But none of those guys are ranked in the Top 30, and both Ramos-Vinolas and Nishioka are outside the Top 75. Schwartman should take home his 128,200 Euros and move on to Paris. These guys have played three times and Nishikori is 3-0 against the diminutive Argentine. Enough said.