Rafael Nadal makes shock exit at Rome Masters, Newsline

ROME – Rafael Nadal’s bid for a 10th Rome Masters title ended late on Saturday after a 6-2, 7-5 defeat by Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals.

Earlier, world number one Novak Djokovic advanced after he claimed a hard-fought 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over German qualifier Dominik Koepfer on Saturday to reach his 11th semi-final.

In the women’s WTA Premier event, top seed Simona Halep made it through to her fifth semi-final after Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva pulled out with a lower back injury trailing 6-2, 2-0.

But twice Rome winner Elina Svitolina was shocked 6-3, 6-0 by 21-year-old Czech Marketa Vondrousova, who set up an all-Czech semi-final with defending champion Karolina Pliskova after her 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 success over Belgium’s Elise Mertens.

Halep goes up against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza in Sunday’s last four after the twice major winner prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 against this year’s US Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka.

Schwartzman, ranked 15th in the world, broke Nadal’s serve twice in the first set and three times in the second before claiming his first ever victory over the Spanish 19-time major champion.

“It was crazy, especially the last three weeks after not playing very well,” he said.

“I played my best tennis, similar to against Rafa at Roland Garros three years ago. I did my best and I’m very happy.”

He will now play Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in Sunday’s semi-finals after the 21-year-old prevailed 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.

Schwartzman rallied to break Nadal twice with the Spaniard netting a sliced return to trail 5-2 and then the nine-time Rome champion launched a backhand long to drop the first set.

He had previously failed to beat Nadal in nine attempts so he knew this win needed the performance of his career.

“Four or five times I was close [to defeating Nadal] but not playing really well but in the first set I took every chance he give me,” Schwartzman said.

“I prefer to have people [present] for the first time me beating him but it was okay.”

Schwartzman rallied to break Nadal twice with the Spaniard netting a sliced return to trail 5-2 and then the nine-time Rome champion launched a backhand long to drop the first set.

Nadal fought off two nerve-wracking break points in the opening game of the second set but another failed slice return into the net at 3-3 saw him fall behind with his title defence hanging in the balance.

Schwartzman missed the opportunity to serve out the match at 5-4 but when he got a second chance at 6-5, a trademark whipped Nadal forehand flew wide to open match point.

It was a clear sign that this was Schwartzman’s night as the 28-year-old wasted no time in going for the coupe de grace drop shot that saw him raise both arms in triumph after a tantalizing battle.

Djokovic moves on to face Norway’s 21-year-old Casper Ruud, who won a tight final set tie-break to defeat Italian home favourite Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).

“Another clay court specialist and this is where he feels most comfortable,” Djokovic said of his next opponent.

“I know I am the favourite but it is the first meeting between us two so I’ll do some homework and be ready for that one.”

It looked like Djokovic was going to win comprehensively when the 33-year-old Serbian raced into a 4-0 lead but he dropped serve twice before managing to close out the first set.

Djokovic was recently disqualified from the US Open for hitting a ball at a line judge and his notorious temper showed again in the second set.

He was given a warning after breaking his racket by slamming it on the ground when Koepfer rallied back from 3-1 down to level the scores.

The 17-time grand slam winner dropped the set after firing long to lose his serve again at 5-4 but in the decider, Djokovic broke the 26-year-old Koepfer twice and clinched the win with a drop volley after 2 hours 10 minutes.

The clay event is a warm-up for the French Open beginning on September 27.