Scouting Report: Nadal Aims To Bounce Back In Rome, Thiem Arrives In Form
Following Monte-Carlo and Madrid, the Internazionali BNL d'Italia marks the final event of the 2021 clay-court ATP Masters 1000 trilogy. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal headline the draw as the top two seeds and will both be aiming to add to their impressive trophy hauls at the Foro Italico.
Djokovic and Nadal have dominated the ATP Masters 1000 in recent years, winning 14 of the past 16 editions of the tournament. Only Andy Murray (2016) and Alexander Zverev (2017) have managed to break the pair’s stranglehold and win the tournament since that stretch began in 2005.
Zverev, who will compete in the Mutua Madrid Open final on Sunday, will be one of the biggest challengers to Djokovic and Nadal in the Italian capital. The German will be joined by World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev, 2017 semi-finalist Dominic Thiem and Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Ahead of the fourth Masters 1000 tournament of the year, ATPTour.com looks at 10 things to watch in Rome.
1) The Defending Champion: After capturing a record-extending ninth Australian Open title in February, Novak Djokovic has compiled a 3-2 record on clay. The World No. 1 fell to Daniel Evans in the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters third round and lost a marathon three-hour, 26-minute Serbia Open semi-final against Aslan Karatsev.
Djokovic will attempt to clinch his first clay-court title of the season in Rome, where he has lifted five of his 15 career titles on the surface. The 33-year-old dropped just one set en route to the title last season, when he beat Diego Schwartzman in the championship match to lift a record-breaking 36th Masters 1000 trophy. Djokovic could face a Monte-Carlo re-match against Evans in his opening match. The Serbian will meet the winner of Evans’ encounter with Taylor Fritz in the second round.
2) Double Digits In Sight: Nadal will be looking to rediscover his best form after a straight-sets loss to Zverev in the Madrid quarter-finals. The Spaniard has compiled a 9-2 record on clay this season, highlighted by his 12th title run at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.
The nine-time Rome champion will be aiming to win 10 or more titles at a single tour-level event for the fourth time in his career. Nadal owns 13 Roland Garros crowns, 12 Barcelona trophies and 11 Monte-Carlo titles. Like Djokovic, Nadal will face a tricky opening match in the Italian capital. The Spaniard will meet #NextGenATP Italian Jannik Sinner or Ugo Humbert in the second round.
3) Different Week, Same Target: As was the case in Madrid, Medvedev enters Rome with a 0-2 tournament record. The Russian was able to record his first win at La Caja Magica this year, and he will hope to do the same in Rome. Medvedev will meet countryman Aslan Karatsev or Miomir Kecmanovic in his first match.
4) Thiem Carries Momentum: After an almost two-month absence, Dominic Thiem clinched three victories to reach his fourth straight semi-final in Madrid. The Austrian will be aiming to build on that strong showing in Rome. The World No. 4, who owns an 8-5 record at the Masters 1000 event, will start his tournament against Guido Pella or Marton Fucsovics.
5) The Home Favourites: With a run to the ATP Cup final and the two youngest players in the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, Italian tennis is firmly on the rise. The host nation will be well represented in the main draw, with Madrid semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini leading the way. The ninth seed will be joined by an impressive group of home talents, which includes Fabio Fognini and #NextGenATP stars Sinner and Lorenzo Musetti.
6) The Leader Of The Pack: Tsitsipas, the current leader of the FedEx ATP Race To Turin, will look to increase his points total in Rome. The Greek was unable to maintain his perfect record of 2021 quarter-final appearances in Madrid, but he has already proven his talent on clay this year. Tsitsipas owns a 10-2 record on the red dirt in 2021, highlighted by his Monte-Carlo title run and a runner-up finish in Barcelona.
7) A Former Champion: Four years on from his maiden Masters 1000 triumph in Rome, Zverev returns to the eternal city as a leading contender for the trophy. The German will compete in the Madrid final on Sunday, following back-to-back straight-sets wins against Nadal and Thiem. Zverev has reached two finals from four appearances in Rome (1-1) and holds an 11-3 tournament record.
8) Exciting Openers: There are many interesting first-round encounters in Rome. In the bottom half of the draw, last year’s semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov will open his campaign against in-form Norwegian Casper Ruud, Fognini will face former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori and Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz will meet Musetti. In the top half, Belgrade champion Berrettini will meet Munich titlist Nikoloz Basilashvili and Marin Cilic will also face Alexander Bublik.
9) Mektic/Pavic Seek Further Success: Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic will be the team to beat in Rome. The pair has already earned five trophies in 2021 and is one win away from its third straight Masters 1000 title. Mektic and Pavic, who won titles in Miami and Monte-Carlo, enter the Madrid final on Sunday with an unbeaten 12-0 team record at Masters 1000 events. The Croatians are the second seeds in Rome.
10) Cabal/Farah Seek Rome Hat-trick: Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah lifted back-to-back Rome titles in 2018 and 2019, and they will return to Rome as the top seeds in 2021. The Colombians will open their bid for a third Rome crown against Italian wild cards Fognini and Musetti.