Rome, Italy, May 17 – Defending champion Rafael Nadal swept into the last four of the Italian Open on Friday as Roger Federer and Naomi Osaka both pulled out injured just a week before the start of the French Open.
Eight-time champion Nadal came through 6-4, 6-0 against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco to set up a rematch with Greek rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the final.
Tsitsipas advanced after Federer — returning to clay after a two-year absence — retired with a right leg injury before their game.
“I am not 100 percent physically and after consultation with my team, it was determined that I not play,” said 37-year-old Federer.
For 32-year-old Nadal it is his fourth straight semi-final on clay this season, but he has not managed to go further before his bid for a 12th French Open title at Roland Garros, starting on May 26.
Tsitsipas stunned Nadal in last week’s Madrid Open semi-finals before falling to Novak Djokovic, but lost to the Spaniard in the Australian Open semis earlier this year.
“It’s good news I have been able to be back again in (the) semi-finals. Another three straight victories,” said second seed Nadal.
“So for me personally, every victory gives me confidence for the next one.”
“After a lot of years here, I know what happened last week, and I’m going to try to do it better tomorrow,” added the 17-time Grand Slam winner.
Reigning US and Australian Open champion Osaka had earlier said she could not compete because of a problem with her right hand.
“I woke up this morning and I couldn’t really move my thumb,” the 21-year-old said.
“I tried to practice and grip my racket and I just felt this pain every time I tried to move my hand in different directions.”
The Japanese star was due to meet Madrid Open champion and sixth seed Kiki Bertens. The Dutch player now goes through to meet Britain’s Johanna Konta, who battled past Czech Marketa Vondrousova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
“I haven’t seen the doctor yet. I’ve seen the physio,” she said.
Osaka said she could stay in Rome before going on to the French Open, but did not rule out competing at Roland Garros.
“I’m going to stay here for one more day and see how it is,” she said.
“I haven’t really talked to everyone so don’t really know the plan is yet. I’ve never had this problem before, it’s brand new.”
– Top ranking at Roland Garros –
Osaka won twice on Thursday after the previous day’s play was rained off, retaining the world number one spot ahead of the French Open.
Federer, a quarter-finalist in Madrid, was playing in the Italian capital to prepare for his return to the French Open for the first time since 2015.
“I am disappointed that I will not be able to compete today,” said Federer.
“Rome has always been one of my favourite cities to visit and I hope to be back next year.”
The 20-time Grand Slam champion had been on court for nearly four hours on Thursday, saving two match points to win through in three sets against Borna Coric after earlier easing to a straight sets win over Portugal’s Joao Sousa.
The former world number one had been a late addition to the Rome tournament as he sought clay-court practice ahead of his bid to add to his lone French Open title from 2009.
On court, Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman dispatched Japanese sixth seed Kei Nishikori to reach the semi-finals.
Schwartzman, 26, won 6-4, 6-2 in 87 minutes for his first win in four meetings with former US Open finalist Nishikori, reaching his first semi-final at a Masters event.
The world number 24, a French Open quarter-finalist last year, next faces either the top-ranked Djokovic or compatriot Juan Martin del Potro.
In a battle between former women’s world number ones, Karolina Pliskova won through against Victoria Azarenka 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 6-2.
The Czech fourth seed next plays either Maria Sakkari of Greece or France’s Kristina Mladenovic.