Rafael Nadal has won the Italian Open eight timesRafael Nadal has won the Italian Open eight times. (AFP Photo/Andreas SOLARO)
Rome (AFP) - Defending champion Rafael Nadal swept past fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco on Friday to set up a revenge clash against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Italian Open semi-finals, admitting the young Greek has long been his tip to make the big time in 2019.
The eight-time Rome champion came through 6-4, 6-0 against Verdasco and next meets Tsitsipas who shocked him at the Madrid Open semi-final last week.
The 20-year-old Greek advanced after Roger Federer -- returning to the Rome clay for the first time since 2016 -- retired with a right leg injury before their match.
Nadal, 32, seeded second, advanced to his fourth straight semi-final, but has not managed to go further on clay this season, ahead of his bid for a 12th French Open title at Roland Garros, starting on May 26.
"After a lot of years here, I know what happened last week, and I'm going to try to do it better tomorrow," said 17-time Grand Slam winner Nadal.
"It's good news. I have been able to be back again in the semi-finals. Another three straight victories (in Rome).
"Of course you talk with the team about every match, every condition, every win or every loss. But being honest, I know what happened and I'm going to try to do it better tomorrow.
"What happened in Monte Carlo happened. What happened in Barcelona happened. What happened in Madrid happened. Here we are. We are in Rome. That's a different event."
Tsitsipas shocked Nadal 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 last week before falling to Novak Djokovic in the final.
The world number seven lost to Nadal in the Australian Open semis earlier this year.
"Stefanos is a good player. Every year we make a prediction with the team which player is going to be at the top 10 at the end of the season before the season starts.
"I put Tsitsipas there. I don't say that because I am a genius. I say that because he was a clear candidate to be where he is.
"He started even better than what I expected. He deserves to be where he is now."
- 'Tough opponent' -
Nadal has not dropped a set in Rome, coming back from an early break in the first set against Verdasco, who squandered a break point for 3-0.
Verdasco, 35, had ousted fifth seed Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov, seeded 11, to reach his first Masters quarter-final since 2017 in Paris.
But Nadal's searing forehand winners up the line pulled the second seed back, and he fought off three break point at 4-4.
The second set was all one-way as Nadal extended his record against Verdasco to 17-3.
Nadal had dropped just two games in his previous two matches against Jeremy Chardy and Nikoloz Basilashvili, both played on Thursday to make up for the rain washout the previous day.
The double duty proved too much for Federer, 37, who withdrew with a right leg injury, along with top women's player Naomi Osaka with a right hand problem.
"That's how it works sometimes," said Nadal.
"That can happen in outdoor conditions. That's part of the game. I am very sorry for Osaka, especially sorry for Roger.
"It would have been great to have the chance to play against him here in the semi-finals.
"But I am going to have another very tough opponent in Tsitsipas.
"The good thing, if you want to talk about the past, is during the last month, my feeling is every week was better than the previous one."
Tsitsipas, the eighth seed, has also not dropped a set this week, ousting Monte Carlo winner Fabio Fognini to book his place in the quarter-finals.