Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet for the 54th time on Sunday in the Italian Open final. Who is the favorite to take the title?
ATP Italian Open Final Prediction: Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal
Hungrier than ever
Three clay-court semifinals in a row at two ATP Masters 1000 events and one 500 doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, not for Rafael Nadal, who is playing in Rome without a clay title already under his belt for the first time ever. The Spaniard lost to Fabio Fognini, Dominic Thiem, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, but was able to regroup and start his Italian Open campaign with a lot of confidence. Nadal lost just six games in his first three matches and served his opponents three bagels in the process. In the semifinals, he got an opportunity to even the score with the aforementioned Greek and won 6-3 6-4, saving both break points faced.
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To peak at the right time
A series of disappointing losses in the first three ATP Masters 1000 series events of the year brought very different reactions from tennis fans all over the world. Some saw it a sign of another motivational crisis for Djokovic that might end in an even bigger slump than the last time around, while some considered it meaningless and said he’ll be okay in Paris. None of them were really right, as the Serbian pulled himself together even quicker, taking the Mutua Madrilena Open title without losing a set. Rome has been a bit more tricky thus far as Djokovic had to save two match points to stop a roaring Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinals. Another Argentinian proved to be just as problematic today as Diego Schwartzman, who was playing his maiden Masters 1000 semifinal, took Djokovic to a deciding set.
What’s left to say about this matchup? It might even be better than the vaunted Fedal rivalry. Let’s start from the basics – Djokovic leads the overall head-to-head 28 to 25, while Nadal took 16 out of their 23 clay court matches. The Serbian fares very well against the famous lefty forehand topspin and generally tries to take the initiative in most rallies. They’re both extremely tough to wear down and are able to outlast almost every other opponent. Over the last ten or so years, it was Djokovic who has challenged Nadal the most on clay.
In a rivalry with such history, the devil is in the details. Is the Spaniard still hurt after his last two painful losses to the Serbian (Wimbledon 2018 and this year’s Australian Open final demolition)? How much did that recent string of semifinal losses shake his confidence up? With the French Open just around the corner and as the two are practically joint-favorites for the title in Paris, this match might give one of them a huge mental edge should they meet on 9th of June in one of the biggest matchups in the history of tennis.
Which nuances might be important? Nadal will probably need to step in and play a little bit more aggressively to win, and today against Stefanos Tsitsipas it was this part of his game that looked a little shaky. Djokovic struggled early to return Diego Schwartzman’s serve and let the Argentinian stay in the match for way too long to call it a really comfortable victory. Maybe Nadal should do his homework and learn something from this match as Schwartzman hugely exploited the dropshot and it actually worked wonders for most of the match. Anyhow, the Serbian always raises his level for the biggest matches and there is arguably no one mentally stronger than him. We’ll take Djokovic to edge it out in a very physical, grueling battle.
Prediction: Djokovic in 3
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