Tabilo Is Epitome Of Clutch in Rome, Reaches First Masters 1000 Semifinal

Alejandro Tabilo (photo: Giampiero Sposito/Foto FITP)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 15, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

A big opportunity awaited both 29th seed Alejandro Tabilo and No. 56 Zhang Zhizhen as each pursued a first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal berth at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome Wednesday afternoon.

In their quarterfinal match, played under partly cloudy but breezy conditions at Foro Italico’s Campo Centrale, it was Tabilo who was the epitome of clutch. He won 6-3, 6-4 in an economical one hour and 26 minutes, closing out his fourth consecutive straight-set triumph of the Roman fortnight. Tabilo is the first Chilean to reach an ATP Masters 1000 semifinal since Fernando Gonzalez at Rome in 2009.

Tabilo, 26, born in Canada to Chilean parents, arrived at his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal after earning the biggest win of career over World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s third round, then garnered a personal-best 18th win in a single season over Karen Khachanov in Tuesday’s fourth round. He already had advanced four spots to No. 28 in the PIF ATP Live Rankings but was looking to go higher.

Meanwhile, Zhang aimed to become the first Chinese player to reach an ATP Masters 1000 semifinal in series history (since 1990). The 27-year-old was in search of his second ATP Tour semifinal after achieving his first last year in Hamburg. He came in No. 42 in the PIF ATP Live Rankings, securing himself a new career-high on Monday.

While there was a lot at stake for both competitors, each knew the focus needed to be inside the lines – and that’s where Tabilo got the job done best using easy power. He hit seven aces and confidently struck 29 overall winners while making only 18 unforced errors. Tabilo outpointed Zhang 67-57, thanks to his aggressive baseline attack that was mixed with an assortment of nifty volleys and drop shots.

Tabilo won 83 percent of his first-serve points, saved both break points he faced from Zhang and broke his opponent twice in five opportunities. It all added up to a satisfying triumph.

“I can’t believe it right now. I’m still trying to just soak this in,” said Tabilo during his on-court interview. “I’m just so happy. I felt pretty good on court, pretty solid. I was just trying to my job and play my best tennis.”

A year ago, Tabilo was ranked No. 190 and toiling away on the ATP Challenger Tour. Now, what a difference the past few months have made. He won his first ATP Tour title at Auckland in January and, after achieving his 19th victory of the season against Zhang, Tabilo will debut in the Top 30 at No. 25 next week.

“It’s definitely the best tennis of my life right now, but I was trying to keep a poker face there, because inside I was so nervous,” Tabilo admitted. “Every time, trying close out the match gets a little bit tighter. So, I was just trying to be loose, trying to smile out there at the end, and thank god I served so well at the end. That helped me close out the match.”

On Friday, Tabilo will play World No. 5 and 2017 Rome champion Alexander Zverev of Germany for a place in Sunday’s championship match. Tabilo will undoubtedly be the underdog against Zverev, who took out No. 11 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States – but it doesn’t worry him.

“Right now, I’m just going to try and relax and recover,” he said, when asked about his preference of playing Zverev or Fritz. “We have a day off now, so I will just try and rest and watch their match a little bit. Hopefully I can keep at this level, and if possible a little bit better.”

Zverev, only Top-5 left in draw, overcomes early spill to beat Fritz

Alexander Zverev will long remember playing in his fifth Rome quarterfinal, as he took on American No. 1 Taylor Fritz on Campo Centrale Wednesday evening.

In their eighth meeting overall but first on clay, the World No. 5 and lone-remaining champion (2017) in the draw took a nasty spill on the red clay during the third game of the match after hitting a two-fisted backhand return from the baseline. It left some bruises on Zverev’s body and required medical attention to clean up some scrapes on both hands. Although his Adidas kit was caked in red clay, Zverev shook it off. He was determined to continue.

The No. 3 seed Zverev made a quick recovery – even broke the World No. 13 and 11th seed Fritz’s serve when he returned to action – and went on to win 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 30 minutes to advance to Friday’s semifinals against No. 29 seed Alejandro Tabilo of Chile. It was Zverev’s fifth career win over Fritz.

Zverev, the only Top-5 player left in the draw, is now 20-1 at Foro Italico against players ranked outside the Top 5, and he’s through to his 18th ATP Masters 1000 semifinal and ninth on clay. He closed out the 49-minute opening set with his ninth winner overall on his fourth service ace as the early break of Fritz held up.

Then, in the second set, Zverev broke Fritz at 15 in the seventh game to go ahead 4-3 and withstood a 26-shot rally from his opponent that he won en route to consolidating the break. It proved to be the margin of victory for the German in this quarterfinal battle.

Zverev closed out the win on his first match-point opportunity after Fritz netted a backhand that killed a 15-shot rally. He outpointed Fritz 57-46 by hitting 20 winners to 11 unforced errors, while Fritz finished with 12 winners to 17 unforced errors. Zverev converted three of five break points and did not face any break points from Fritz.

Despite the nasty fall, Zverev made a nice recovery and was pleased with how he dealt against Fritz. “Yeah, I’m extremely happy, especially since Taylor has been one of the best players on clay this year. To have a win like that is great for me, especially after the fall. I still have a little bit of pain, so once the adrenaline settles, I’ll have it checked out tomorrow. But definitely, I’m happy with the win,” he said in his on-court interview.

Around the Foro Italico

No. 3 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain were upset by Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez of El Salvador and Mate Pavic of Croatia, 6-4, 6-4, to advance to the semifinal round. They will face the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between No. 7 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia against Italians Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori.

Unseeded Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan and Ben Shelton of the United States went the distance to beat Francisco Cerundolo and Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina, 1-6, 6-4, 10-5, in a battle of singles stars. It was their third win of the tournament that was decided by a match tie-break. Next, Bublik and Shelton face either No. 1 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina or Belgians Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen.

Wednesday’s Foro Italico results

Thursday’s Foro Italico order of play

By the numbers

Alejandro Tabilo will join Nicolas Jarry in Top 30 on Monday, marking the first time since July 2005 that two Chileans will be in Top 30 of PIF ATP Rankings.

“Quotable …”

“It’s disappointing to be honest. I wanted to do better here. It was not even close. What can I say? The more titles I win, the more chances I have to defend.

“So, the more tournaments in a year I’m going to play where I already won, maybe. It depends, but at least win twice the same tournament, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

— Defending Rome champion Daniil Medvedev, during his post-match news conference, following his third-round loss to Tommy Paul on Tuesday.