Hurkacz Humbles 10-Time Rome Champion Nadal In Their First Meeting

Hubert Hurkacz (photo: Giampiero Sposito/FOTO FITP)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 11, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Ten-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal had never faced World No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz before their second-round tussle in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia at Foro Italico Saturday afternoon. After their 14-minute, 22-point opening game that included eight deuces and five break points, won by Hurkacz, it set the tone for what was to unfold over the rest of the one-hour, 33-minute match on Campo Centrale that was filled to the brim with 10,500 tennis enthusiasts.

As it turned out, the No. 7 seed Hurkacz remained superb and humbled Nadal, 6-1, 6-3, through a combination of his big serve and his powerful groundstrokes to move into the third round against 25th seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina, who defeated No. 61 Thiago Seyboth Wild of Brazil, 6-3, 7-5.

The 37-year-old Spaniard, who owns the most ATP Masters 1000 wins (410), sought his first Top-10 win on clay since defeating four Top-10 players consecutively to capture the 2022 Roland Garros title. He arrived in Rome with a protected ranking of No. 9 and was pushed to three sets before defeating Belgian Zizou Bergs in his first-round match on Thursday. However, Saturday against Hurkacz, he played closer to his current ranking of No. 512, committing an uncharacteristic 20 unforced errors while also being unsuccessful in converting any of the seven break points he had against his seventh-seeded opponent.

Meanwhile, the Polish No. 1 came in looking to achieve his first win at Foro Italico since 2020. To his credit, Hurkacz has always fared well against Spaniards on clay on the ATP Tour, improving to 7-1 with his conquering of Nadal in a high-class performance that included 23 winners to just 10 unforced errors. He fired nine aces, converted four of seven break-point chances and outpointed Nadal 66-43.

“I’m definitely really proud of myself,” said Hurkacz, 27, in his post-match, on-court interview. The victory improved his 2024 win-loss record to 24-10, which includes winning a title on clay at Estoril last month.

“Playing Rafa is something special. It’s just different, especially being on clay, the surface that he has just dominated over the past 20 years. No one will ever have a record like him on this surface.

“He’s just bigger than the sport at the end of the day. So many people follow him and he inspired so many guys, so I’m just really happy to have had that experience today.”

Looking back at how the second-round match unfolded, Hurkacz admitted, “That was probably the longest three games I will ever play in my life. I think I found my serve and that definitely helped my confidence build. Actually, after those long games, I got into a pretty good rhythm and felt, ‘OK, I can go like this forever.'”

After capturing the 49-minute first set, Hurkacz took advantage of an early break of Nadal’s serve and strung together three straight love holds to push ahead 4-2. Then, after holding at 15 for a 5-3 advantage, Hurkacz broke Nadal to close out the victory, showing no holes in his game.

“I just tried to compete. Obviously the score looks the way it does, but I knew I had to be on top of my game throughout the whole match,” Hurkacz said of his first Roman triumph in four years. “If I had dropped just a little bit, he was going to be right back there. That was the really tough part, and I was trying to manage it as good as I could.”

Nadal calls Rome one of the most important events in his career

Following his straight-set loss to Hurkacz, which dropped his career win-loss record at the Italian Open to 70-9, Nadal said Rome was one of his most important events.

“I always say that I will never be able to say thank you enough for all the love and support that I receive around the world,” said Nadal, in his post-match news conference. “Here in Rome is obviously one of the most important events in my tennis career, one of these events that is going to be in my heart for so many reasons.

“Here I played a few of the most important matches, beautiful matches, emotional ones. In a lot of moments of my tennis career, I was able to come back from tough moments playing here in Rome, especially the last eight years when I arrived here with some doubts, then I started to play well here.

“Obviously, it was not the case today, but it really happened in the past. I enjoyed a lot playing in this court.”

Defending champion Medvedev earns 100th career ATP Masters 1000 match win

World No. 4 and defending Rome champion Daniil Medvedev began defense of his title with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 40 Jack Draper of Great Britain in an hour and 47 minutes on Campo Centrale. It was the No. 2 seed Medvedev’s 12th straight win against a British opponent and it improved the Russian’s 2024 win-loss record to 23-6. It was also his 100th career ATP Masters 1000 match win.

Medvedev wore down Draper, who was looking for the biggest win of his career, with his baseline rallies and outpointed 22-year-old Briton 74-62. He overcame 18 unforced errors by hitting 15 winners and took advantage of Draper’s 30 unforced errors.

“It was not easy,” Medvedev admitted during his on-court interview. “I feel like the conditions are completely different from last year and also from Monte-Carlo and Madrid.

“Really slow and heavy here so I feel like honestly it’s tough to make a winner and that’s what I saw in all the other matches. You need to work the opponent left-right-left-right and you get tired and your opponent gets tired. I knew that before the match so I’m happy that I managed to stay stronger.”

Although Medvedev was broken by Draper at 5-2 in the second set as the defending champion was serving for the match, he closed it out in his next service game.

“It was good that I managed to get in front,” Medvedev said. “Even if then he started to play better, it was enough to have the margin. Pretty happy with my level and looking forward.”

Next, the six-time ATP Masters 1000 champion will face last year’s #NextGenATP Finals champion Hamad Medjedovic of Serbia. The 20-year-old qualifier advanced with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over No. 30 seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

Auger-Aliassime garners 200th tour-level victory

World No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, a finalist last week at Madrid, collected his 200th career tour-level win with a 6-1, 7-6 (6) victory over 112th-ranked Dutch qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp on Pietrangeli Saturday night.

Auger-Aliassime, 23, rallied from a double break down in the second set and outpointed van de Zandschulp 79-68 during the two-hour, four-minute second-round match to achieve his milestone victory. He’s just the second  ATP Tour player born in the 2000s to reach 200 wins, following 22-year-old World No. 2 Jannik Sinner of Italy.

Around Foro Italico

Second-round winners included: No. 21 seed Nicolas Jarry of Chile, No. 14 seed Tommy Paul of the United States, Dominik Koepfer of Germany, Italian wild card Stefano Napolitano, No. 9 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, qualifier Alexandre Muller of France, No. 17 seed Sebastian Baez of Argentina, No. 27 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, No. 6 seed Stefano Tsitsipas of Greece, No. 10 seed Holger Rune of Denmark and No. 4 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Jarry defeated Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi, 6-2, 7-6 (6), while Paul beat Russia’s Aslan Karatsev, 6-4, 6-2. Koepfer upset No. 22 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States, 6-4, 6-2, while Napolitano advanced over Juncheng Shang of China, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-0. De Minaur breezed past Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, 6-3, 6-2, while No. 31 seed Arthur Fils lost to Muller, 7-5, 6-3, in an all-French battle. Baez defeated Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6), while Norrie beat Jaume Munar of Spain, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. Tsitsipas rallied past Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-4, to avoid a second straight opening-round loss, while last year’s finalist Rune held off Luca Nardi of Italy, 6-4, 6-4.

Finally, past midnight, Madrid champion Rublev rallied to beat American Marcos Giron, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, winning on his third match-point opportunity.

Saturday’s Foro Italico results

Sunday’s Foro Italico order of play

By the numbers

Hubert Hurkacz is 9-2 on clay courts in 2024, highlighted by his first title on the surface in Estoril and 9-1 in opening rounds this season (losing only to No. 54 Gaël Monfils at the ATP Masters 1000 in Indian Wells).

“Quotable …”

“It’s very special. We just had the opportunity to practice. Growing up, looking up to him and seeing him win all those titles, obviously here and at Roland Garros, it was just a special experience.

“I wanted to play him so much, especially on clay, so just being able to share the court with him, especially with the atmosphere at the beginning of the match, how people really love him and support him. … It’s tough to explain in words, but the whole atmosphere surrounding the beginning of the match was just different.”

— World No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz, during his on-court interview, on the experience of playing Rafael Nadal for the first time.