Nadal Avenges Tsitsipas Loss In Rome, Will Battle Djokovic For Title; Who’s The Pick?
by Sean Randall | May 18th, 2019, 10:23 pm

If you were looking for surprises in Rome this week, the men’s draw wasn’t it. While the women’s field will crown a new champion after rounds of injuries and upsets, the men’s final features two of the titans, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, locking up for another Rome title, another Masters shield and the confidence of going into the French Open as arguably the favorite.

As for the rest of the men’s event, things went fairly to order. After having to play two matches on one day, I can’t fault Roger Federer for bailing out. The weather was bad, the lines were bad and some players thought the schedule was bad. And with the French right around the corner, why risk it?

So for Roger, it’s been a positive return to the clay so far, but I just don’t think it will get any easier in Paris in a best-of-5, especially if the weather is anything like it was in Rome (cool and wet)!

Dominic Thiem’s early exit to Fernando Verdasco was about the only surprise, but again, given the Wednesday washout everything went haywire on Thursday which meant players were facing a very busy schedule ahead, and players were forced to make a decision.

Nick Kyrgios did his Nick Kyrgios thing, that is creating controversy which led to even more headlines — I’m starting to think he feeds off those viral clips of him putting on his show.

Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov and Karen Khachanov all continued their fight for the tile of Most Disappointing of 2019. How quickly things change. Around his time last year, Zverev was ahead in the points race, now he’s leading in something else. And the Andre Agassi-led Dimitrov is now playing qualifying this weekend in Geneva. Wow.

And Juan Martin Del Potro showed signs of hope. He won two matches on Thursday and then chocked a bit on that forehand on matchpoint in that breaker yesterday against Djokovic. Wherever he is, he probably just thought about that miss. Ouch.

Delpo’s countryman Diego Schwartzman had an even better tournament, not dropping a set en route to today’s encounter with Djokovic, his first semifinal match at the Masters level.

But early on, Djokovic proved why he was the huge favorite, basically doing everything Schwartzman could do, but better, and he rolled in the first set as he took advantage of the Argentine’s weaker serve.

Schwartzman broke through after a lengthy sixth game of the second, but couldn’t keep the lead as the two traded breaks back-and-forth. Eventually, though, Schwartzman got the edge in the tiebreaker and forced the decider.

Diego was doing some damage off the ground, but his main weapon was the dropshot which he went to early and often in points. But in the end, Djokovic was just two strong in a 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-3 win

“He came out with the right game plan. He was hitting the ball clean. He was hitting it fast. He was mixing up the pace,” Djokovic said. “It was really hard to read the play.”

Earlier, Nadal got back on top of Stefanos Tstisipas after the Greek stunned him a week earlier in the Madrid semifinals. You beat Rafa on clay in front of his fans, he’s going to get you back and that’s what he did today in pretty much dominating the 20-year-old in a 6-3, 6-4 victory.

Had you not watched any of the other clay events and just Nadal this week, you would think all is right with Rafa, yet this was his first final in four clay events and it came just in time.

“Is important victory for me because I played a solid match against a good player and a player who is winning lot of matches on this surface,” Nadal said. “So winning in straight sets against him is a very positive result. More than this is a feeling that I am playing better every week, every day. That’s important for me.

“I played a little bit better than him,” Nadal added. “What I had to do is play well. Last week I didn’t play very well in Madrid. Today I did better.”

And from last week to this week, Nadal, as he’s so good at doing, problem solved.

“Today when I was hitting the forehand, he was not able to hit his forehand. Last week when I was hitting the forehand, he still had the chance to go for the shots with his forehand. [That is] something that could not happen today if I wanted to have success,” Nadal said. “When I achieve that goal, I start to open the court with the backhand against his forehand, too. I was able to change down the line with the forehand. My return was a little bit more inside than last week.”

The win puts him the eight-time Rome champ into his 50th Masters final against Djokovic who’s playing in his 49th Masters final seeking a 5th title in Rome.

Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal
At the start of the week, I picked Djokovic to beat Nadal in this final. Do I stick with it?

Thus far this week, Rafa’s easily looked the better player. Del Potro should have taken out Djokovic and today, Schwartzman was giving him a lot of problems in a second straight grueling match.

Meanwhile, Nadal hasn’t come close to dropping a set and must be fully rested and confident.

“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.”

Added Rafa, “The main thing is I am playing better,” he said. “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.”

Head-to-head, Djokovic holds the edge 28-25 and he’s won nine of the last 11. Incredibly, it’s also their eighth meeting in Rome where Nadal leads 4-3, and that includes his most recent win in the Rome semis last year.

“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.”

So I guess it would be easy to just go with the “Djokovic has to be tired from all that tennis while Rafa is back” talk, but the Serb has dominated this series and we’ve seen him before play tough matches and come right back the next day like nothing happened.

That said, after coming up short in his last three events, Nadal has to be desperate for a title. But, why did he come up short? And that’s why I’ll stay with Djokovic.

I just don’t think Rafa is fully back. And I don’t think he’s ready to beat Novak, not after what happened in Australia.

So I expect Djokovic to raise his level tomorrow, neutralize Nadal’s forehand with his backhand and if he serves well — the key to the match — he’ll win.

It wouldn’t surprise if Rafa pulls it out in the end, but I just can’t overlook those losses to Fognini, Thiem and Tsitsipas. Djokovic is better than all of them.
The Pick: Djokovic in two

Tennis Channel will have coverage of the women’s final at 7am and then the men’s final at 10am ET. There is a threat for some storms but hopefully we’ll get the match in. Ten years after their first Rome final, they meet again. These guys are insane.

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40 Comments for Nadal Avenges Tsitsipas Loss In Rome, Will Battle Djokovic For Title; Who’s The Pick?

chofer Says:

chocked a bit on that forehand+

Says Sean Randall.

OMG. What happens to people? SEE that match again. HE DIDN’T EXPECTED A SHORT RETURN FROM DJOKOVIC AND GOT A LITTLE LATE ON THE BALL AND SHANKED THAT FH. DJOKOVIC WAS RUNNING TO THE OTHER SIDE. It was the correct play, bad execution. Yes, it was match point. Nobody has lifted a balle the match, like ever? He only got ONE chance with his own serve. It’s not like he was winning 5-2 on the second set and got broken again and again and lost. On the contrary, he lifted a 2-5 disadvantage and got Djokovic into a TB and had multiple occasions to get broken in the first. He shoulda lost that set.

Suddenly, a match that could have been two sets for the winner and the loser SOMEHOW got him to much point by toghin it out BY SAVING MULTIPLE BREAK CHANCES and taking his ONLY ONE is a CHOKER.


Tennis Vagabond Says:

Rafa has been stronger this week, but 9-2 H2H in last 11 is overwhelming. I think it will be Novak. Whoever wins will be #1 favourite for French, the loser will be #2. No one else will be close.

Great to see Del Potro have some success again. I think this puts him in the race for quarters or semis, with Thiem, Federer and Tsitsipas. But after those guys, who else is there?

Dave Says:

This reminds of Rome 2016. Djokovic played a tough 2 and a half hour match against Nadal in the QF’s and a 3 hour match against Nishikori in the Semi-Finals. He played an inform Murray and was beaten in Straight sets. He just didn’t have enough left to challenge Murray. This time he is going in playing almost 8 hours in 3 days and is 3 years older. I expect Nadal to win this match. This match is more important for Nadal to win. Even if Djokovic loses, This doesn’t change things for the French in my opinion. If Djokovic wins, I think it gives him a greater chance at the French Open. So I see the pressure being more on Nadal to win this match and not so much on Djokovic. Nadal needs to overcome this mental thing that is obviously very real against Djokovic. And losing will only compound that further.

FedExpress Says:

You could be right Dave. Nole looks tired and Nadal on fire

jatin Says:

Rafa on monstrous form. Novak looks tired though.
6-0 first set.
Can Novak fight back ?
He should. He won’t let this match go like this.
Hoping to see a contest.

skeezer Says:

Lol Novak moon balling.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Holy crap! Just checked the score and saw the bagel. Crazy! Dave, you must be right about the fatigue.

Kimmi Says:

Bagel! Nadal is silencing all who doubted him!

All Out Says:

WOW!! I did not see that coming. I bet even Novak did not see that coming. Still not at his best level IMO. This could turn into an ugly 3 setter for Rafa. Hopefully he finishes strong. Vamos!!

skeezer Says:

So now Rafa joins Fed, both have given Djoker Bagels in finals.

skeezer Says:

Expect a push from Novak this set, the worlds #1 has been embarrassed.

All Out Says:

Now he’s looking like the Djoker in Rafa’s head. Play better Rafa. Vamos!!

FedExpress Says:

These Djokosmashes never get old.

skeezer Says:

Djoker Overheads. Best in the game.

Van Persie Says:


Nole’s body wanted to lose in 2, but after that antiklimax bagel, Nole’s mind decided to push it to a decider 😉

jatin Says:

Somehow, Someway Novak has turned it around.
Rafa must be furious, He had chances and he was playing better until the last game. But Novak did amazingly well in saving those BP’s and strive when it mattered the most.
Its game on in the 3rd set now.

FedExpress Says:

Lol Rafa

From Goating he goes to chiting.

3rd set here we come. Nole is in Rafas head.

All Out Says:

And there you have it. An ugly 3 setter. Nadal has spectacularly dropped the rome title. Unless he’s able to produce an extra gear, this match is well and truly over.

skeezer Says:

So much for the claim “Nole is tired”.
These Masters are only 2 out of 3, and they only play 1 match a day ( unless playing doubt ) so unless you are 37 going on 38 there is no excuse. Now being stiff from previous matches I do believe and getting your body warmed up takes a bit longer, but these guys are not THAT old.
5 setters, even with an extra day of rest, are a whole other animal.

All Out Says:

A Break!!! Djoker looking tired. All Rafa has to do is hold serve this set and the match is his. Vamos!!

Daniel Says:

Awful game where he was twice ahead with game point and bad shot selection to get broken. Lost the momentum and edge of serving first to keep Nadal behind. Its just a break but even so, he could not have lost tha opening game, not after he won the set.

Daniel Says:

Why he is trying so much to Dropshot if its not working?! 6 gifted points already.

Van Persie Says:

Finally, one that worked 😉

Van Persie Says:

oh, man. such ugly errors.

Congrata Rafa, well deserved!

Van Persie Says:


All Out Says:

Would you believe that!!A bagel and a breadstick. I thought Rafa was a goner at the end of the second set. But he proved he’s still the clay king by outlasting the Serb(a bit tired though) in the decider. Over to a very interesting Roland Garros.

jatin Says:

Great match and well played rafa.
Finally his 1st title this year and well deserved.
Congrts to his fans.

So we have both Novak and Rafa with the titles in madrid and rome. Both heading with confidence to RG.

Giles Says:

Well done Champ!👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

j-kath Says:

Well now….should we be surprised – after all it is Rafa who is King of Clay n’est-pas?

skeezer Says:

Rafa really needed this win, to believe again he can take down Djoker with the exclamation point of a Bagel and a Breadstick. Let’s face it Djoker has done a good job of getting into Rafa’s head. This time Rafa stuck with a successful strategy and didn’t let his head get in the way. This will bode real well for him coming into FO. Congrats!

Trust me, Nole will be a scary force at FO. He has had a fine Clay season, 1 title and 1 Finals.

Daniel Says:

Right in time for RG Nadal sends a message. Break the tie for Masters #34 and 1st title in 9 months. Man to beat on RG and that only on a dump cold day, otherwise #12 and 18th slam.

chrisford1 Says:

If the drop shot isn’t working, DROP IT!! Don’t try and try again until you are broken again and done! It does appear the long matches with the two great playing Argentinians softened him up, too. But Djokovic played well enough I don’t think Nadal hurt his confidence.
The FO Draw is May 23rd. It is shaping up as Monster Big for Nadal and Djokovic. Djokovic for obvious reasons. Nadal for perhaps reevaluating plans post-Xisca wedding. To hang around longer than planned. It would be 18. Two within Fed, no? This year you have past Djokovic, a few players that could take out Djokovic or Nadal earlier. I’d now add del Potro to the list of widely mentoned upset possibilities along with Thiem, Tsisipas, Federer. And drop Zverev because he is just sucking too much lately. But only one, I think, with the age, conditioning, power and stamina to be in the Final and pose a threat to get his first RG title. Thiem.

Congrats to the King of Clay, and his 1st title of the season.

Dan Says:

Vamos! Now we have a break from thatwogboy. He is getting drunk somewhere… Poor sob!

Solomon Ekegbu Says:

I don’t think Nadal is our of the woods yet. I really don’t think Thiem and other players could beat him in Paris. Djokovic is still the only player that can beat Nadal. His game is still a problem for Nadal.

Djokovic backhand is still a weapon. And Nadal still has problema with that.

I see both in RG finals except something miraculous happens.

Van Persie Says:


All good. I was more convinced this week, that Nole is cofave with Rafa to win the French, than I was last week.


yeah, those Argentineans 🙄😉

Wog Boy Says:

Congratulations Rafa, well deserved.

As I said on the other thread, dignified loss is what I expected, taking one set from Rafa on slow clay is sort of dignified, though bagel and breadstick are not really.
Just checked the stats, match lasted 2,5 hours even with bagel and breadstick?! If Nole had put up better resistance in the first and third set the match would going over 4 hours, the question is, did Nole needed that after those Argentines drained him out, would he be able to perform his best and eventually win and all off that one week before FO?!
The answer is No, No and No.

chrisford1 Says:

Brits call them Argies. Probably to avoid the spelling mistake I made. :)
Still remember how del Porto pounding the stuffing out of Djokovic in 2013 at Wimbledon in the semi.(Obviously one of my favorite matches, two guys I was a big fan of, in a classic) Novak somehow defending. Hammer and Tongs! Novak didn’t fall, but clearly he was hurting and fatigued and not playing like Djokovic until the final game. (As Andy said, the longest game of his life). For his part, Delpo said he was so beat up he couldn’t get out of bed for two days except to use the bathroom.
On points, Djokovic picked up a couple hundred for the week, Rafa none.

Giles Says:

Obsessed with points shmoints, 🏆 much better!

Annie Says:

Well Sean…it appears you R a joker fan, from your commentary.
UR prediction…joker in 2??? Seriously??? Against, RAFA…The King of Clay”?
So much for that. RAFAEL U played great! Congrats 2 YOU!
Looking forward to RG like all the other fans. # 12 Could be right around the corner?!? But as you have said many times…”We shall see” 128 players…1 Winner…1 Champion!!! Luv U Babe!!! Vamos RAFA!!!

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