Tabilo Terrific In Rome, Upsets Djokovic For First Top-10 Triumph

Novak Djokovic and Alejandro Tabilo (photo: Foto FITP)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 12, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Alejandro Tabilo of Chile pulled off the upset of upsets at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome Sunday afternoon. Whether he was dreaming or not, the reality is this: the final ATP Masters 1000 on clay this season is without its top seed after just the third round, thanks to Tabilo.

By the end of his 6-2, 6-3 comprehensive victory over six-time champion Novak Djokovic on Foro Italico’s Campo Centrale – a power-filled performance that lasted a mere 67 minutes and ended with a double fault by the Serbian great – the 26-year-old Chilean born in Toronto, Canada, was both stunned and in awe of what he had just accomplished.

After all, not only had Tabilo beaten the top-ranked player in tennis in Djokovic, it was also his first Top-10 triumph — and it advanced him to the fourth round of a Masters 1000 for just the second time.

After he embraced Djokovic at the net, Tabilo meandered about his side of the court for a moment, taking it all in, beaming a big smile for everyone to appreciate. Then, he hustled over to share high-fives with his team before retrieving his racquet that he left behind on the red-clay court of his biggest victory.

Throughout, the 29th-seeded Tabilo struck the ball cleanly and effectively against Djokovic and controlled play both from the baseline and at the net. He finished with 22 winners to just 15 unforced errors, while Djokovic produced a mirror-image opposite with 15 winners and 22 unforced errors. Tabilo converted four of seven break points and did not face any break points from Djokovic. Meanwhile, the World No. 1’s overall performance, which included an uncharacteristic five double faults, was very low on energy. Tabilo outpointed Djokovic 54-40.

Tabilo became the first Chilean to defeat a World No. 1 since Fernando Gonzalez beat No. 1 Roger Federer in round-robin play at the 2007 Nittto ATP Finals. As for Djokovic, it was just his second loss to a player outside the Top 10 in Rome in 48 matches.

“It’s incredible,” said Tabilo in his on-court interview. “I came on court just looking around, just trying to soak it all in and trying to process everything. I can’t believe it. I’m just trying to wake up right now. …

“I was just trying to keep my nerves in, trying to keep swinging,” he added. “Obviously every time you feel like you are closer to the end, your arms start to get a little tighter and you start to swing shorter, so I was just trying to not think about it and take it point by point. It’s crazy, I can’t believe what just happened.”

As for Djokovic, it was the first time the 36-year-old had failed to reach at least the quarterfinals in Rome. In his post-match news conference, he reflected concern for his lackluster performance against Tabilo.

“I just wasn’t able to find any kind of good feelings on the court, to be honest, striking the ball. I was completely off,” he said of his straight-set loss.

In a season of milestones for the 26-year-old lefty Tabilo, in which he won his first ATP Tour title at Auckland last January, he’s improved his win-loss record to 17-9 in 2024. Tabilo’s next opponent will be 16th seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, who defeated No. 20 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina, 6-2, 6-4, in an hour and 33 minutes.

“Congratulations to my opponent,” Djokovic said. “It’s the first time I faced him. Great player. Really quality player. All-around game.”

Monteiro blazing a trail in Rome, makes history for Brazil

Qualifier Thiago Monteiro has been playing above his ranking throughout the first week of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. The reception the likable Brazilian has received from fans in Rome is reminiscent of being back home in Rio.

Sunday afternoon on Foro Italico’s intimate Pietrangeli, surrounded by many Brazilian fans cheering and waving their country’s familiar green and yellow flag, the 106th-ranked Monteiro defeated No. 58 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (6), in two hours and 37 minutes – and made history.

Monteiro became the first Brazilian to reach an ATP Masters 1000 fourth round since Thomaz Bellucci in 2016 at Rome. After winning a pair of qualifying matches, the 29-year-old Brazilian lefty has strung together wins against Gaël Monfils of France, No. 32 seed Jordan Thompson and Kecmanovic. On Tuesday, Monteiro will face No. 56 Zhang Zhizhen of China, who defeated No. 12 seed Ben Shelton of the United States, 6-2, 6-4, for a berth in the quarterfinal round.

Sunday’s victory by Monteiro, filled full of many big moments, lifted him to No. 84 in the PIF ATP Live Rankings as he seeks a return to the Top 100 for the first time since July 2023. Monteiro hit 35 winners, including 27 from the forehand side, converted three of four break points and outpointed Kecmanovic 100-86.

With the match hanging in the balance, Monteiro saved a match point at 5-6 in the final set tie-break and won the match on his first match-point opportunity when Kecmanovic netted a fifth-shot backhand. Monteiro fell to the red dirt in celebration, then got up and tapped his heart several times while flashing a huge smile.

“It’s unbelievable,” Monteiro said in his on-court interview of making his first Masters 1000 fourth round. “I felt like I was playing the Rio Open at home but we are in Rome. The crowd was behind me. The atmosphere was crazy, it was really good. Today was a tough battle against a great opponent, a great friend Kecmanovic. He’s such an aggressive, solid player. At the end, it was a matter of one point and a little bit of luck and I’m glad I could compete today. I’m happy to be in the second week.”

With Monteiro’s triumph over Kecmanovic, it’s the sixth time in Madrid and Rome that the Brazilian has beaten a player ranked higher than him. “I’ve been working really hard even if I wasn’t getting the result I expecting,” he said.

“Now, I feel really good on the court and all the hard work is paying off. It’s a matter of believing in my game, it’s really good for my confidence and self-belief. I think I can compete with the beat and keep winning.”

After Rome, Nadal looks ahead to Roland Garros

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal (photo: Foto FITP)

Following his 6-1, 6-3 second-round loss to Hubert Hurkacz on Saturday, Rafael Nadal addressed in his post-match news conference the upcoming French Open in Paris, which starts in two weeks. It’s a Grand Slam the Spaniard has won a record 14 times.

“Now [there are] two ways,” Nadal said. “Probably one is to say, Okay, I am not ready, I am not playing well enough. Then is the moment to take a decision in terms of not playing Roland Garros. Another is to accept how I am today and work the proper way to try to be in a different way in two weeks.

“The decision, as you can imagine, is not clear in my mind today. But if I have to say what’s my feeling and if my mind is closer one way or the other way, I’m going to say I will be in Roland Garros and try my best.

“Physically I have some issues, but not probably yet enough to say not playing in the most important event of my tennis career. Let’s see what’s going on, how I feel myself mentally tomorrow, after tomorrow, and in one week. If I feel ready, I’m going to try to be there and fight for the things that I have been fighting the last 15 years, even if now it seems impossible.”

Around the Foro Italico

No. 8 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria struck 19 winners in his 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory over 137th-ranked French qualifier Terence Atmane in an hour and 44 minutes on Grand Stand Arena to advance to the fourth round at Rome for the first time since 2020.

“For the past five days I have been playing lefties, so it will be nice to get a righty, but it is what it is,” Dimitrov said afterward. “It was a very difficult match. Probably one of the most difficult matches this year. The conditions were so difficult. I rolled my ankle on one side, there was not much clay left.

“You have to adapt and today that is what I did. I played an OK game and that was enough but at the same time I am not happy with where my game is at. But I keep winning matches like this and that is what counts.”

Next, Dimitrov will face No. 11 seed Taylor Fritz, who advanced over 24th-seeded fellow American Sebastian Korda, 6-3, 6-4, in 71 minutes on Pietrangeli. Fritz hit 16 winners and outpointed Korda 61-42.

Meanwhile, Portugal’s Nuno Borges reached his first ATP Masters 1000 fourth round with his 4-6, 7-6 (8), 7-6 (4) victory over Italian qualifier Francesco Passaro on Grand Stand Arena. The 53rd-ranked Borges has become the third Portuguese player after Frederick Gil and João Sousa to reach the round of 16 of an ATP Masters 1000 event.

The 240th-ranked Passaro would have been the third-lowest ranked player in a Rome fourth round since 2000 behind No. 361 Stan Wawrinka in 2022 and No. 249 Lorenzo Musetti in 2020.

Next, Borges will face No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, who ended the run of No. 54 Luciano Darderi of Italy, 7-6 (3), 6-2, in an hour and 48 minutes Sunday night on Campo Centrale.

Doubles No. 1 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina advanced to the quarterfinal round with a 6-1, 7-6 (3) victory over Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Henry Patten of Great Britain. The World No. 1 team outpointed their opponents 66-45 and will next play Belgians Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, who rallied to upset No. 8 seeds Hugo Nys of Monaco and Jan Zielinski of Poland, 5-7, 6-3, 10-8.

Sunday’s Foro Italico results

Monday’s Foro Italico order of play

By the numbers

Zhang Zhizhen of China is the first Chinese man to reach the third round in Rome.

“Quotable …”

“I think everybody who has been involved in the process [of my career], and my family, can’t believe it right now. They basically sent me in [to the match] with, ‘You’ve done a great job, it’s unbelievable that you’ve got this far’. So, I don’t think anybody can believe it. I’m still trying to process everything, so it’s a crazy feeling.” 

Alejandro Tabilo of Chile, during his on-court interview, on his upset of World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic.