Tennis: Nadal sweeps into Rome semi-finals but Schwartzman dumps sixth seed Nishikori

Rafael Nadal of Spain returning the ball to compatriot Fernando Verdasco in their ATP Rome Masters tournament quarter-final tennis match at the Foro Italico on May 17, 2019. He won 6-4, 6-0.
Rafael Nadal of Spain returning the ball to compatriot Fernando Verdasco in their ATP Rome Masters tournament quarter-final tennis match at the Foro Italico on May 17, 2019. He won 6-4, 6-0.PHOTO: AFP

ROME (AFP) - Defending champion Rafael Nadal swept past fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco on Friday (May 17) to book his place in the semi-finals of the Italian Open.

The eight-time Rome champion came through 6-4, 6-0 in 1hr 38min to set up a clash with Greek eighth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the final.

Roger Federer's withdrawal with a right leg injury earlier in the day had handed Tsitsipas a ticket to the last four.

The 32-year-old Nadal, seeded second, is bidding for his first clay-court title this season before chasing a 12th French Open crown at Roland Garros starting on May 26.

Earlier, Argentina's Diego Schwartzman cruised past Japan's Kei Nishikori in straight sets to advance to the semi-finals.

The 26-year-old won 6-4, 6-2 in 87 minutes in the quarter-final for his first win against former US Open finalist Nishikori, the sixth seed.

The 24th-ranked one-time French Open quarter-finalist has not dropped a set so far on the red clay of the Foro Italico and next faces either world No. 1 Novak Djokovic or compatriot Juan Martin del Potro for a place in the final.

World No. 7 Nishikori paid for a string of unforced errors, with 28 in total, double that of Schwartzman.

In the women’s draw, Konta booked her first semi-final spot in Rome with a 6-3 3-6 6-1 win over Czech Marketa Vondrousova. 

The Briton, who defeated Americans Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams in her two matches on Thursday, will face sixth seed Kiki Bertens on Saturday for a place in the final. 

Madrid Open champion Bertens reached the last four after Japan’s world number one Naomi Osaka pulled out with a thumb injury ahead of their quarter-final. 

Konta, celebrating her 28th birthday, hit 42 winners against the 19-year-old Vondrousova and dominated the final set to clinch victory in one hour 53 minutes.  She heads towards this month’s French Open in fine form on clay, having finished runner-up in the Morocco Open at the start of May. 

Fourth seed Karolina Pliskova recorded her 500th career win with a 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-2 victory over Victoria Azarenka.  She will face either Kristina Mladenovic of France or Greek Maria Sakkari in the other semi-final.