Three Spaniards And A Latvian

This content was published 14 years ago. It may refer to a past edition of the Internazionali d’Italia.

Spain has long been reputed for its proficiency on clay, and up until 10 pm on Friday night, it looked as if they were about to bag all four semi-final spots here in Rome
In the end, “only” three of them made it through, but with four-time Internazionali BNL d’Italia champion Rafael Nadal squaring off against the only non-Spaniard in the semis, few would back against an all Iberian final on Sunday.
Due to the proximity in their rankings, the Fernando Verdasco – David Ferrer tie is the more intriguing one. Verdasco comes into the match on the back of an amazing run which saw him reach the final in Monte Carlo (his first at a Masters 1000 tournament) and win the following week in Barcelona. Not that Ferrer has crept into the semis here unheralded – he is the ATP tour leader in wins this season with 28 (two ahead of Verdasco and four more than Nadal) and has a 22-3 record on clay – again a best mark.
This will be the tenth time that the two of them have met, Verdasco leading the head-to-head 6-3. One of those came less than a fortnight ago in the semi-finals at Barcelona in a match which went the distance. Ferrer has not defeated his compatriot in two years however, and despite having more career titles (8 to 5), he has slipped into Verdasco’s shadow somewhat after the latter raced up to seventh in the world this time last year as well as appearing on posters and magazine spreads galore with his playboy looks and lifestyle. Ferrer was fourth in the world two seasons ago without ever threatening greatness in the Grand Slams – indeed, Stuttgart back in 2006 is his most prestigious tour win to date. Since then he has slipped to 17th, and now would be as good a time as any to get back on to the front page of the tennis websites.
The second semi-final ought to be a one-sided affair. And yet. While 38 ranking spots, 36 titles and 16 Masters crowns separate the other two protagonists on Saturday, not to mention six Grand Slams, casual fans and tennis aficionados alike will be following the Nadal – Ernests Gulbis clash. What else can be said about Nadal that has not already been written in the past? He is the king of clay – undisputed. Roger Federer may be the reigning Grand Slam holder on the surface, but no-one can even hold a candle to the Majorcan’s 26 titles on the red dirt.
After the pain – mental and physical – of the injuries he suffered in the second half of last season and also at this year’s Australian Open, Nadal seems to be back to his best, as his performance at the recent Monte Carlo Masters would attest. But on Saturday he will be facing a wild card – not literally, but figuratively. Gulbis has stepped into the aching void left by the retirement of Marat Safin. Tall, tousled hair, talent to burn, high-octane, high-risk tennis and a taste for the high-life. Unfulfilled, nay wasted opportunities could be added to that list, but again, enough has already been written about that too.
Having accounted for Marcos Baghdatis, Filippo Volandri, Feliciano Lopez and none other than Federer this week, who is to say that he will not have the chutzpah to throw Nadal out of kilter on Saturday? The Majorcan has beaten the Latvian on the two occasions they have met, but both times Gulbis took a set. And if he can take on out on centre court on Saturday afternoon, then who knows what might happen.

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