Fabio Fognini will try to extend his Rome run when he goes up against Alexander Zverev on Thursday. Fellow injury-plagued stars Kei Nishikori and Juan Martin Del Potro are also aiming for a place in the quarterfinals.
(7) Kei Nishikori vs. Juan Martin Del Potro
Nishikori and Del Potro will be squaring off for the sixth time in their careers when they battle for a quarterfinal spot at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Thursday. Del Potro is leading the head-to-head series 4-1, but they have never faced each other on clay and Nishikori won their most recent encounter 7-5, 6-4 last fall in Basel. The Argentine had previously been 10-0 in total sets against Nishikori, including a pair of straight-set victories on grass in 2012 (Wimbledon and the London Olympics).
Despite having played sparingly due to left-wrist concerns, Del Potro has secured a seed for the upcoming French Open thanks to his performance in Rome. The world No. 34 will likely climb to at least 30th in the rankings following wins this week over Grigor Dimitrov and Kyle Edmund. Del Potro is 9-4 overall this season with a semifinal showing in Delray Beach. At the moment, it is Nishikori who is dealing with a more significant wrist issue. The world No. 9 did not play at all in April and lasted only two matches in Madrid, where he withdrew prior to a quarterfinal clash against Novak Djokovic. Nishikori at least managed to beat David Ferrer 7-5, 6-2 on Wednesday, but it remains to be seen if he can get all the way through what is sure to be a competitive, hard-hitting affair with Del Potro.
Pick: Del Potro in 3
Fabio Fognini vs. (16) Alexander Zverev
World No. 1 Andy Murray is out of the way and now a big opportunity awaits Zverev and Fognini as they head into third-round action in Rome on Thursday. Treating his Italian fans to a stellar performance under the lights on Tuesday, Fognini took care of Murray 6-2, 6-4. The world No. 29, who previously steamrolled wild card Matteo Berrettini 6-1, 6-3, struggled briefly after making a run to the Miami semifinals but he pushed eventual champion Rafael Nadal to three sets last week in Madrid.
Zverev has been so good in 2017 (22-9 overall, 11-3 on clay) that he will clinch a top 16 seed at Roland Garros if he wins this match. The 17th-ranked German is coming off a quarterfinal finish in Madrid and so far in Rome he has defeated Kevin Anderson and Viktor Troicki. Fognini has been extremely motivated this week, but he has been known for sudden and drastic fluctuations in his mood. It may not be as easy to get up for a showdown with Zverev that it was for a date with the world No. 1. Moreover, Fognini’s wife–Flavia Pennetta–is due to give birth on Friday.
Pick: Zverev in 2