Rome Day Four: Nadal, a “regular” guy that wins among the giants

Rafael Nadal (

The average height of Zverev, Raonic, Isner and Cilic is 6’ 7”. Eight different nations are represented in the quarters of both men’s and women’s tournaments. Pliskova is flirting with the No. 1 ranking.

ROME – The top half of the men’s singles draw at this year’s Italian Open has been colonized by giants. Alexander Zverev is 6’ 6”, Milos Raonic 6’ 5”, John Isner 6’ 10” and Marin Cilic 6’ 6”: Their average is an astonishing 6’ 7”.

In the bottom half, we will see the clash between two “regular” guys such as Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal, who both stand at 6’ 1”. Another highly anticipated quarterfinal will feature Juan Martin Del Potro (6’ 6”) and Novak Djokovic (6’ 2”).

If Sam Querrey (6’ 6”) had taken advantage of one of the three match points that he held against Thiem, Rafa Nadal would have looked like a “dwarf” in the company of giants: A challenge between one lonely David and seven Goliaths, with David’s mighty left hand hurling a stone from his sling and hitting the Goliaths in the center of their forehead.


While the above-mentioned giants were smacking monster serves in every corner of the service box, a red-haired gentleman watched them from the stands and didn’t seem particularly impressed. Despite his 5’ 8” height, Rod Laver literally dominated tennis in the 1960s with two mind-blowing Calendar Year Grand Slams that he completed in 1962 and 1969.

Barely bothered by the extreme Mediterranean heat at 79 years of age, Red Rocket Rod was sitting in the VIP box beside two Italian tennis legends – Lea Pericoli and Nicola Pietrangeli – and was probably thinking about how lucky he was that one of his biggest rivals Ken Rosewall was actually shorter than him. Standing at 5’ 7”, Ken “Muscle” Rosewall had one of the most legendary backhands in the history of the game. Laver was able to add “only” eleven Grand Slam titles to his resume; in fact, he was forced to skip twenty-one events between 1963 and 1968 when professional tennis players were not allowed to compete in major tournaments. Laver completed his first Calendar Year Grand Slam in 1962 and turned pro in 1963. When the rules finally changed in 1968 and the pros were finally allowed to enter Grand Slam events again, Laver completed a second Calendar Year Grand Slam in 1969. We will never know how many Grand Slam titles Laver would have ended up winning if he had been allowed to play between 1963 and 1968. In my opinion, he would have won more titles than Federer. Roger’s fans can harass me as much as they want on social media.

It was pure old-fashioned tennis back then, with wooden rackets and elegant gestures: More finesse and less brutal power, more talent and less athleticism. Red Rocket Laver is one of Roger Federer’s main rivals, if not the biggest, in the impossible yet fascinating challenge to determine who the Greatest of All Time is. While Federer has a losing head-to-head record against his contemporary rival Nadal, Laver lost almost all of his matches to Rosewall in 1963 when he first turned pro. Sometimes history repeats itself even when it comes to sports rivalries that are almost fifty years apart.

Speaking of Rafa Nadal, he is the overwhelming favorite to win the title in Rome this year. Yesterday he dismissed Jack Sock of the United States in straight sets and extended his winning streak to 17 matches having already dominated three main clay court events on the road to Roland Garros.


Both standing at 5’ 10”, the Italian and the Japanese were overwhelmed by more powerful opponents. Fabio Fognini didn’t seem too disappointed about his loss to Alexander Zverev, who literally crushed him in the first set. Fognini’s wife – former US Open champion Flavia Pennetta – is due to give birth to the couple’s first child this week, so Fabio was definitely looking forward to going home as soon as his tournament was over.

Kei Nishikori was probably not very disappointed either. At the end of the day, losing to Juan Martin Del Potro is not a disgrace: The head-to-head between the two players now stands at 5-1 in the favor of the Argentine. Del Potro, who had previously lost all four encounters against top ten players this year, finally broke the ice in Rome. He will now face Novak Djokovic in a mouthwatering quarterfinal clash. If Del Potro plays as well as he did at the Rio Olympics, he might make the Serbian cry again.


The Spaniard will have to overcome the challenge represented by Dominic Thiem of Austria. Nadal has recently prevailed over his younger opponent in both the Madrid and Barcelona finals, so it will definitely be a treat for the Italian crowd to witness this clay court classic battle in the quarterfinals. In my opinion, Thiem will soon be a steady top-five player.

Djokovic and Del Potro will headline the evening session. A possible Nadal-Djokovic semifinal clash would be an absolute blockbuster, but also a Nadal-Del Potro match could turn into an epic encounter.


As a testament to what has now become a truly global sport, the eight quarterfinalists in the men’s draw all come from different countries: Zverev (Germany), Raonic (Canada), Isner (USA), Cilic (Croatia), Thiem (Austria), Nadal (Spain), Del Potro (Argentina) and Djokovic (Serbia). The same situation occurred in the women’s tournament: Kontaveit (Estonia), Halep (Romania), Bertens (Holland), Gavrilova (Australia), V.Williams (USA), Muguruza (Spain), Svitolina (Ukraine) and Pliskova (Czech Republic).

Unfortunately the local crowd will not have any Italian favorites to cheer for.  It is quite surprising that this year France – one of the strongest tennis nations – doesn’t have any players in the final stages, but it is fair to mention that most of their top players such as Tsonga, Monfils and Gasquet decided to stay at home in order to better prepare for Roland Garros.


In my opinion, one of the “giants” of the WTA Tour has a good shot at the No. 1 ranking in the upcoming weeks.  6’ 1” tall Karolina Pliskova is now ranked No. 3, while No. 1 Angelique Kerber is going through a major identity crisis and No. 2 Serena Williams is pregnant.  In the semis, the Czech could potentially play the winner of the most fascinating women’s quarterfinal: The clash between the legendary Venus Williams and last year’s French Open champion Garbine Muguruza.

Pliskova showed great humility while speaking with the press in Rome: “I was born on clay, but I can’t usually express my tennis on this surface.” Nevertheless, in this tournament she dominated both Davis and Bacsinszky and is now facing No. 10-ranked Svitolina in the quarterfinals. The Czech has a convincing 5-0 record against the Ukrainian.  Last year Karolina lost in the first round in Rome, first round in Paris and second round at Wimbledon. It should not be difficult for her to do better this year and become the new world No.1, unless Simona Halep gets on a roll.

(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – )


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