ROME: Throughout his career, Nadal has never lost consecutive matches on his favorite surface and the Spaniard extended that perfect record on Wednesday by beating John Isner 6-3, 6-1 to reach the third round of the Italian Open.
Nadal was coming off a loss to 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid Open quarterfinals last week. After a first-round bye, he improved to 44-0 in matches on clay following a loss on the surface.
Perhaps more importantly, Nadal regained some confidence as he works his way back from a rib stress fracture that kept him out for six weeks before the tournament in Madrid.
While he would clearly love to add to his record total of 10 Italian Open titles, Nadal's bigger objective is regaining his top form in time for the French Open, which starts in less than two weeks. Nadal has won 13 of his 21 Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros.
Nadal improved to 19-0 against Americans on clay, having been forced to a deciding set only twice — both times by Isner, who pushed Nadal to five sets at the 2011 French Open and three sets at the 2015 Monte Carlo Masters.
Up next, Nadal meets Denis Shapovalov, the Canadian he beat at the same stage last year in a grueling three-set comeback victory in which the Spaniard saved two match points.
Second-seeded Alexander Zverev, who was routed by Alcaraz in the Madrid final on Sunday, beat Sebastian Baez 7-6 (6), 6-3 to end the Argentine qualifier's eight-match winning streak.
In the women's tournament, 2019 French Open semifinalist Amanda Anisimova eliminated Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic 7-6 (5), 6-1, and Croatian qualifier Petra Martic beat fifth-seeded Anett Kontaveit 6-2, 6-3. Former champion Karolina Pliskova was dumped out after being beaten by Switzerland's Jil Tiechmann 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Pliskova had made the previous three finals in Rome, winning the title in 2019, but the sixth seed lost to 24-year-old Tiechmann in a battle which lasted two hours and 40 minutes.
Third seed Aryna Sabalenka strolled into the next round with a routine 6-2, 6-0 win over Shuai Zhang, while Coco Gauff is also in the last 16 after seeing off fellow American Madison Brengle 6-2, 6-4.
Madrid finalist Jessica Pegula advanced when Anhelina Kalinina withdrew before their match because of an upper back injury. The American will next face third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka. Agencies
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