World number One Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will battle for the 54th time in their illustrious career as they bid to break the tie of 33 Master’s titles and take the outright lead on Sunday at the Foro Italico in Rome. Both advanced in contrasting fashion, while the eight time champion Nadal easily won 6-3,6-4 to avenge his defeat at the hands of the Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid last Saturday, Djokovic was taken to the distance for the second day in a row by another Argentine Diego Schwartzman but came through in the second semi-final under lights 6-3,6-7(2),6-3.
The four time Rome champion will contest his eighth final here and will be bidding to win his second Master’s title of the year in as many weeks, having captured the title in Madrid last Sunday. He carries a 28-25 lead over Nadal in what is the longest rivalry in Men’s tennis, however Nadal leads 16-7 on clay and 4-3 in the Italian Capital.
The eleven time Roland Garros champion Nadal, has had a below par preparation for the French Open, having lost to the Italian Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo, to the Austrian Dominic Thiem in Barcelona and then to Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in Madrid.
In what was an eagerly awaited contest, the Spaniard Rafael Nadal showed no signs of feeling the pressure as he broke serve once in each set. Nadal converted on two out of four break point opportunities and saved both the break point chances he faced. He improves to 4-1 against Tsitsipas and will contest only his second final of 2019, having finished runner up to Djokovic at the Australian Open final at Melbourne in January.
Tsitsipas leads the tour with maximum match wins in 2019 despite a modest 29-11 record. The 20 year old couldn’t handle the slow court conditions which favoured the Spaniard. The high altitude of Madrid has always troubled Nadal in the past, but today he looked like the Nadal of old. In three matches before today’s match, Nadal had won one set 6-0 in all his three matches dropping only six games in the process.
Like Djokovic he will be aiming for his 34th Master’s series title. Tsitsipas who won the Millennium Estoril Open was bidding to join Djokovic as the only player to beat Nadal in back to back clay court matches.
In the second semi-final, the 24th ranked Schwartzman who had all but beaten Djokovic at Roland Garros in 2017, took to the court with a lot to prove having seen his ranking drop from a career high number Eleven in June 2018. The 5 ft 7 inch from Buenos Aires had won 50% of return games (18/36) in the tournament so far. Having dropped the first set 3-6, he failed to serve out the second set in which each player dropped serve twice. In the ensuing tie-break the Argentine ran away a 7-2 winner to force the decider. Djokovic who saved two match points in his win over another Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro yesterday, regrouped to enter his 49th final at Master’s level.
Prediction :- Nadal who is 24-5 in 2019 is searching for his first title this year. The slow court conditions should suit the Spaniard as he looks for a morale boosting performance going into the French Open. Fatigue maybe a factor for Djokovic as he is playing is tenth match in two weeks. But with so much on the line he will be up for it. This one should be a typical slugfest. I would tip the Spaniard to come good in three tight sets.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]