Fourth seed Rafael Nadal continues his remarkable renaissance on the European clay courts. The nine-time French Open champion has won Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid back-to-back. The Spaniard defeated 13th seed Jack Sock, 6-3, 6-4 to secure his 17th consecutive victory on the European clay court swing at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Nadal is searching for his eighth title at the Foro Italico and first since 2013. The former world number one remains unbeaten against Americans on clay courts with his record at 14-0.
The Spaniard's victory over Sock means that for the third consecutive tournament he will play eighth seed Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals. A rematch of their Barcelona Open and Mutua Madrid Open final encounters which Nadal won both in straight sets.
Nadal shines in the opening set
The fourth seed held comfortably in his opening service game, and Nadal was immediately looking to break Sock's serve in the second game. The 14-time Grand Slam champion did just that breaking the big-serving American's serve to love. The seven-time winner faced a break point but saved it in a lethargic 14-shot rally with the 13th seed's forehand sailing wide. The Spaniard was on the backfoot in a 17-shot rally with Sock but an amazing crosscourt winner on the stretch allowed Nadal to race out to a 3-0 lead.
Sock finally settled into the match, holding to love in his next service game but still trailed 3-1. Once again, the American's forehands were forcing Nadal to draw some errors, racing out to a 15-30 advantage. Furthermore, the duo continued to trade in long rallies on the baseline with Sock committing unforced errors, and a good serve down the middle further extended the 30-time Masters 1000 winner's lead.
The American once again held serve in his next service game to keep in touch with Nadal and keep the break to one. The 14-time Grand Slam had a good first serve, returned brilliantly by Sock, and a wayward forehand unforced error out wide was committed by Nadal. However, the nine-time French Open champion remained untroubled in this service game as he continued to control the rallies, and a service game out wide closed out the game for Nadal, who was one game away from the opening set.
Sock amped up the pressure in his next service game, and he held easily to 15 but still trailed 3-5. Nadal served for the first set in style winning a 15-shot rally, and he produced a scintillating forehand winner in the corner, turning defence into attack. The first set was sealed for Nadal with a backhand unforced error out wide from Sock, 6-3 in 39 minutes.
Nadal seals the victory in the second set but Sock fights well
The signs were ominous at the start of the second set as Nadal won the first point in a lengthy rally with his forehand winner catching the line. Sock was unable to cope with the Spaniard and dropped serve to love. Surprisingly, Sock raced out to a 0-30 lead on Nadal's serve in the next game but the Spaniard restored parity in this game at 30-30. However, the 13th seed stepped into the forecourt exceptionally with a forehand winner in the corner to get a break point. The American broke Nadal's serve for the first time in the match with the former world number one's backhand sailing long to level the second set at 1-1.
Sock took the lead in the second set with a service game to love to lead 2-1, applying the pressure on Nadal. The 14-time Grand Slam champion fell to a 0-30 lead but the turning point in this game was a running forehand winner down the line from the Spaniard. A couple of good serves from Nadal, bailed him out of trouble to remain level in this second set. Sock starting to employ a serve and volley tactic which worked a treat in the following game to lead 3-2. However, the fourth seed responded with a hold to love and served a couple of aces.
Once again, Sock served well and the former world number one committed some unforced errors, which allowed Sock to lead 4-3. There was some scoreboard pressure applied on Nadal but a few backhand unforced errors springing from the American's racquet kept the second set nicely poised at 4-4.
The seven-time champion's playing scintillating tennis at the moment in frightening form, and he seized the opportunity to take the initiative on Sock's next service game. The Spaniard sent a warning to Sock with a forehand winner down the line, after stepping into the forecourt, three back-to-back forehand unforced errors from Sock, allowed Nadal to serve for a place in the quarterfinals.
The former world number one served for the match with no problem, serving it out to love, finishing the match with a flourish with an ace out wide to bring his first match point. He converted it at the first time of asking in a five-shot rally and a backhand winner down the line, to win 6-3, 6-4 and remain 17-0 on clay in 2017.