Preview: Djokovic And Nadal Face Off In Rome Final
A treasured rivalry will be renewed as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal square off for the title at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. They co-own the record for most ATP Masters 1000 titles (33) and the winner of Sunday's final will hold it solo.
This is their eighth meeting in Rome. Nadal edges Djokovic 4-3 in their mini-series at the ATP Masters 1000 event, which includes four finals (2-2). Djokovic leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 28-25.
“He's my greatest rival of all time, for sure,” said Djokovic. “I've had so many matches against him. We have the longest rivalry of tennis of all time. Every time we get to play each other, it's a thrill. It's the ultimate challenge.”
Djokovic has had a much harder road to the final than his opponent. While Nadal dropped just 13 games and dished out three 6-0 sets, the Serbian saved two match points to defeat Juan Martin del Potro in an epic quarter-final and followed it up with another grueling three-set win over Diego Schwartzman. The Serbian has spent five hours and 34 minutes on court since Friday, compared to three hours and 22 minutes for Nadal.
“It's obvious that I played more than Rafa. At the same time, I'm in the finals and that's a great success,” said Djokovic. "It's not the first time I find myself in these kinds of situations. I feel okay, [but] of course not as fresh as at the beginning of the week. It is what it is. I'll try to recover for tomorrow.”
The top seed has compiled a greater track record against the world’s best players than Nadal has over the past year. Djokovic is 18-1 against Top 10 players since Wimbledon and 5-0 in 2019, compared to 1-3 this season for the Spaniard. The four-time Rome champion is hoping to lift his first title here since 2015 (d. Federer), but knows he'll need to bring his best tennis to defeat Nadal.
“He's one of the greatest champions this game has ever seen. His mentality, his approach, his resilience, ability to fight back after long absence from the tour, injuries, surgeries…he's had it all,” said Djokovic. “He keeps on showing to the world why he's one of the biggest legends of tennis history. I have the greatest respect for him.”
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Defending champion Nadal has prevailed eight times at the Foro Italico, but is searching for his first title in 2019. He recorded consecutive semi-final finishes during the European clay swing at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell and Mutua Madrid Open, but broke the streak on Saturday by getting revenge on #NextGenATP greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who defeated him last week in Madrid.
Nadal has been in brutal form from the first ball in Rome. He’s only been broken once this week, holding in 31 of 32 service games (97%) and leading the tournament in return games won (76%, 22 of 29). He is still unbeaten in Rome semi-finals (11-0) and picked up his 60th win at this event over Tsitsipas.
The Spaniard is competing in an astounding 50th Masters 1000 final (33-16) and has a clear history of success in Rome. But as always, Nadal has mentally wiped the slate clean and will be solely focused on the job at hand against Djokovic.
“The main thing is I am playing better,” said Nadal. “For me, tomorrow is an opportunity to play against a great player. It’s another test. I hope to be ready to compete well. It’s going to be a tough one.”
The doubles final will see sixth-seeded South African-Kiwi duo Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus face the third-seeded Colombian pair of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. Defending champions Cabal/Farah prevailed last month in Barcelona (d. Murray/Soares) and Klaasen/Venus seek their first ATP Tour doubles title this season.
ORDER OF PLAY - SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2019