Playing his first match as a Top 100 player, Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi made the most of the occasion with a victory against Diego Schwartzman on Thursday night at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. Playing in front of his home fans in Rome, the 22-year-old wild card scored a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory to close the day’s play on centre court.
Arnaldi rose to No. 99 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings behind his third-round run in Madrid, where he upset World No. 4 Casper Ruud. After beating 2020 Rome finalist Schwartzman, he will bid for his second Top 20 win against 18th seed Lorenzo Musetti in the second round at the ATP Masters 1000.
After a dominant opening set, Arnaldi miseed two chances for an early break in the second as Schwartzman found his footing on the Italian clay. The Argentine secured the first break of set two to force a decider, but the flash point of the middle set came in a thrilling cat-and-mouse point that included a well-placed tweener from Arnaldi. The wild card had a chance to cap off the all-action point with a bunted passing shot, but he pushed it just long, still drawing thunderous applause from the crowd.
Even Schwartzman seemed mildly disappointed the show-stopping point did not end with a winner, with the Argentine grimacing as he confirmed to his opponent that the ball was out before flashing a smile and joining in on the applause.
Arnaldi struck immediately in set three to edge in front once again, and he did not face a break point in the final set — though he did need four match points to put Schwartzman away in a 12-minute final game.
Entering the 2023 season without a tour-level win, Arnaldi is now 4-3 on the year while Schwartzman dropped to 5-13.
Also in evening action, Alex Molcan edged Italian qualifier Stefano Napolitano 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(1) on the Grandstand. The 28-year-old Napolitano had gone through pre-qualifying to receive a qualifying wild card and posted wins against Aleksandar Kovacevic and Maximilian Marterer to reach the main draw. At No. 555 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, he was the second-lowest ranked player in the main draw, with only No. 591 Jeremy Chardy, who entered with a protected ranking, behind him.
Molcan improved to 8-3 since March, with his best result of the 2023 season a semi-final run in Banja Luka (l. to Andrey Rublev). He is now 6-2 at the ATP Masters 1000 level this season, with third-round runs in Indian Wells and Miami.
The Slovakian converted on both of his break points in the win, while saving five of the seven break chances against him. He will next contest a rematch with the sixth-seeded Rublev in the second round on Saturday.