Alexander Zverev appeared destined for an early exit in Rome on Thursday evening. But the German battled past World No. 4 Kei Nishikori 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Last week in Madrid, Zverev only lost five games against Nishikori. At the Foro Italico, however, he needed to claw back from a break down in the decider to set a quarter-final clash against Rafael Nadal after two hours and 53 minutes.
“I think my aggressive play fits better the altitude, it’s as simple as that,” Zverev said in his on-court interview. “The conditions definitely fit Kei better, but at the end of the day I’m happy with the match… Right now, I’m just happy to be in the quarter-finals.”
It will be a blockbuster rematch, as the sixth seed upset Nadal last week at the Caja Magica en route to lifting his fourth ATP Masters 1000 trophy.
“I think there’s a big difference [in the conditions]. I also think there’s also a difference in our physical state. I think last week and now this match for me is going to come together tomorrow, but I’m going to give it my best,” Zverev told ATPTour.com. “At the end of the day, he’s one of the biggest competitors in the world and I’m going to try to be one myself tomorrow.”
Zverev has won three consecutive matches against the legendary lefty, claiming all six sets in those clashes. The German likes the challenge of facing the best.
“I enjoy playing against the best players in the world. That’s what you’re here for. That’s what you play tennis for,” Zverev said. “You want to be the best and you want to play against the best. It’s going to be a tough challenge, it’s going to be a tough battle, but I’m also looking forward to it.”
Nishikori was up a break in the third set and saved three break points in one service game, eventually taking a 4-1 lead. Coming back would not be an easy task, as Nishikori ranks third all-time with a 72.8 winning percentage in tour-level deciding sets.
But Zverev raised his level, playing comfortably on defence before stepping into his backhand down the line and short forehands when available. Once the German broke back at 2-4, he was like a runaway train, winning the final five games with play reminiscent of his level in Madrid, where he beat Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Matteo Berrettini en route to the trophy.
The 2017 Rome champion converted five of his 13 break points and won 70 per cent of his first-serve points to advance.