Nadal’s Rome Masters title defence ends

Rafael Nadal’s first tournament in seven months has ended with a straight-sets loss to Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters.

Nadal, the defending champion and nine-times winner in the Italian capital, had never lost to 15th-ranked Schwartzman in nine previous meetings but the Argentine proved too good on Saturday to win 6-2 7-5.

“It was crazy. Tennis is crazy. Our performance is always crazy,” Schwartzman said on court after his victory.

“Today I played my best tennis… I was not thinking to beat him really because I was not playing good (lately).

“But today I did my best and I’m very happy.”

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.

Nadal, who chose not to play the US Open due to travel concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic, had not played a tournament since winning a title in Acapulco, Mexico, in February.

He now has one week to regroup before he attempts to win a record-extending 13th French Open title.

The major at Roland Garros starts on September 27.

Earlier, Novak Djokovic lost his cool midway through a 6-3 4-6 6-3 defeat of German qualifier Dominik Koepfer – less than two weeks after getting defaulted from the US Open.

When Djokovic was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3, he slammed his racket to the red clay in anger.

With the frame broken, Djokovic was forced to get a new racquet and received a warning from the chair umpire.

“It’s not the first nor the last racquet that I’ll break in my career,” Djokovic said.

“I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it but when it comes, it happens.

“That’s how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger and it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don’t encourage that – definitely.”

The top-ranked Djokovic was thrown out of Flushing Meadows for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger.

Aiming for his fifth title in Rome and a record setting 36th ATP Masters 1000 title, Djokovic’s semi-final opponent will be Casper Ruud.

Norwegian Ruud eliminated local favourite Matteo Berrettini 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7-5) in a match that lasted almost three hours.

Schwartzman will next face Denis Shapovalov, who held off Grigor Dimitrov 6-2 3-6 6-2.

While fans have not been admitted to the tournament yet, Italy’s sports minister said that 1000 spectators will be allowed to attend the semi-finals and finals at Foro Italico.