Paul Finds His Nerve In Time, Guts Out Rome Quarterfinal Win

Tommy Paul (photo: Adelchi Fioriti/Foto FITP)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 16, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Two days after Tommy Paul ousted the defending champion and World No. 4 Daniil Medvedev in the fourth round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia for his first win over a Top-20 player on clay, the American No. 3 recorded his second Top-10 win in a single tournament for the first time in his career for an encore Thursday afternoon.

The World No. 16 Paul also earned his 150th career tour-level victory, becoming the third active American to achieve that plateau following Taylor Fritz (253) and Frances Tiafoe (187), thanks to his  7-5, 3-6, 6-3 rollercoaster of a ride win over World No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. It advanced him to his 12th tour-level semifinal – second on clay – and third at an ATP Masters 1000 level. Indeed, there were lots of reasons for Paul to celebrate.

Paul faced 18 break points on his serve and saved 12 of them, including six during a topsy-turvy, 15-minute-plus final game of the match that lasted 20 points and featured seven deuces. Paul put away the semifinal triumph over the 11th seed Hurkacz on his fourth match-point opportunity after his opponent sailed a sixth-shot forehand long.

The 14th-seeded Paul, who in the second set was a break point from securing a set-and-double-break lead but let it slip away, found his nerve and got over the finish line thanks to some big serving and great defense. He overcame 41 unforced errors to hit 29 winners and converted seven of 13 break-point chances against Hurkacz, who hit 22 winners but committed 44 unforced errors during the two-hour and 43-minute match played on Foro Italico’s Campo Centrale. Paul outpointed Hurkacz 111-103.

“I started off pretty well, but things really got away from me there in the second set, and at the beginning of the third,” said Paul, whose serve was broken to open the final set and trailed 0-2 before rallying to capture six of the final seven games. “I just had to stick around, fake a little energy to get myself going there in the third. I started looking for my forehand more, started hitting it bigger, and playing with a little bit more intensity. That was probably the key for me in the end.” 

Thursday’s victory by Paul marked the first time in his career that he’s won two consecutive matches against Top 10 opponents.

“My game plan coming in was, ‘I’ve got to get into as many of his service games as possible’, to try and get a couple of breaks,” Paul said during his on-court interview. “From that aspect I did very well today, but in my next match I’m probably going to focus on holding serve a little bit more. …

“The last match I played I was on offense a lot, so I guess I kind of came out thinking it was going to be the same. Obviously with Hubi, he can crush the ball, so I had to give a little bit of ground there in the end.”

Jarry wins heartstopper against Tsitsipas

On Friday, the World No. 16 Paul will try to become the first American finalist in Rome since Andre Agassi in 2002 when he opposes World No. 24 Nicolas Jarry of Chile. The 21st seed showed plenty of resilience in pulling out a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over World No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in two hours and 38 minutes on Campo Centrale.

Jarry, who hit 37 winners and outpointed Tsitsipas 105-101, won on his fourth match-point opportunity as he broke his sixth-seeded opponent for the third time in nine tries. The Greek star netted a forehand return that halted a nine-shot rally. It was Jarry’s fourth career win in six meetings against Tsitsipas.

“I think beating Stefanos on clay is a good achievement. Certainly happy with my fight today, for how I played and how I maintained myself,” Jarry said during his on-court interview. “I kept trying to find different ways to have chances on his serve. I knew I was playing good. I had to adjust some things in the backhand so he didn’t push me back, that’s why he played so good. I was able to do those things and I’m extremely happy for the win.”

With his 15th win of the season, the 6-foot-7 Jarry has advanced to his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal and joins fellow Chilean Alejandro Tabilo in the final four lineup. They became the first Chilean duo to reach the quarterfinals at the same ATP Masters 1000 event. Now, it will mark the first time that multiple Chileans have reached the semifinals of a tour-level event since 2006 at Vina del Mar and the first time outside of Chile since the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Around the Foro Italico

Doubles No. 1 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina advanced to the semifinals with a 6-2, 7-6 (4) win over Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen of Belgium in an hour and 28 minutes on Pietrangeli. The winners converted two of six break points and outpointed their opponents 65-51 in advancing to their ATP Masters 1000 semifinal on clay this season.

Granollers and Zeballos, who improved to 23-8, will face Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan and Ben Shelton of the United States in the semifinal round on Saturday.

In the other quarterfinal played Thursday on Pietrangeli, Italian favorites Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori upset No. 7 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and 17 minutes for their 20th victory of the season.

Bolelli and Vavassori, who outpointed their opponents, 59-44, will face Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez of El Salvador and Mate Pavic of Croatia in the semifinals.

Thursday’s Foro Italico results

Friday’s Foro Italico order of play

By the numbers

Since 2000, only four other American men besides Tommy Paul have reached the Rome semifinals: Andre Agassi (2002), Andy Roddick (2008), John Isner (2017) and Reilly Opelka (2021).

“Quotable …”

“That’s the shot I either win or lose matches with. That’s how it’s been my entire career. When I’m hitting that shot well, that’s when I win. When I’m not hitting it too well, that’s when I lose. That’s definitely the shot I’ve been working the most on in my career, also my serve obviously.”

— No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev, during his on-court interview after defeating Taylor Fritz in the quarterfinal round Wednesday evening, describing the effectiveness of his forehand groundstrokes.