The Internazionali BNL d’Italia, or the Italian Championships in Rome, is the fifth ATP Masters 1000 event of the year and the last big test before the start of the French Open, the second major championship of the year. This year’s tournament is full of intrigue that will provide for many dramatic moments.
Perhaps the biggest surprise and question mark leading into the event is the form of Rafael Nadal. The “King of Clay” and eight-time tournament winner is in the worst clay-court slump of his career, winning only nine matches on his favorite dirt surface so for this season and had not even reached a final in his three previous clay-court events. He lost to Fabio Fognini handily in the semifinals of Monte Carlo, in straight sets again in the semifinals of the Barcelona Open and to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Is this spurt of mediocre play an indication that the soon-to-be 33-year-old Nadal is finally starting to wear down and perhaps may be closer to retirement than we think or will the Mallorcan channel his frustration and anger at poor results by his lofty standards that will he win for a ninth time in Rome and again later in Paris for a 12th time?
Last year, Nadal also wobbled into Rome, following a quarterfinal loss to Thiem in Madrid, but recovered to win his eighth title in Rome, beating defending champion Alexander Zverev in the final.
This will be his 15th consecutive appearance in Rome and he comes in with a 56-6 career record (8-2 in finals). He has advanced to the quarterfinals or better in 13 of his previous 14 visits to the Italian capital. Nadal will attempt to become the first player on the ATP Tour this year to defend a title from last season.
The Rome field features 17 of the top 20 players including former champions Nadal, an eight-time winner, Novak Djokovic, a four-time champion, and 2017 winner Alexander Zverev. These three account for 13 of the past 14 titles. Djokovic, fresh off his important win in Madrid, is aiming to hoist the Rome trophy for the first time since 2015, after losses in the final in 2016 (to Andy Murray) and 2017 (to Zverev), and a semifinal loss to Nadal last year. Last Monday started the 250th week the Serb was at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings.
The most intriguing entry in the Rome field this year is Roger Federer, who is making his first appearance at the event since 2016. It is one of the very few events in his career that he has not won. His last showing in Rome was a third-round loss to Dominic Thiem on May 12, 2016. That loss to Thiem was the Swiss star’s last clay-court match at any event until he played in Madrid this past week, where he reached the quarterfinals before falling to Thiem once again.
After his win on Monte Carlo, top Italian Fognini is on the verge of cracking the top 10 and is a legitimate contender for his home nation’s title. Fognini, however, is only 10-11 lifetime in Rome, with last year’s quarterfinal as his best result. The last Italian in the ATP Rankings Top 10 was Corrado Barrazzutti on January 22 1979 and Fognini would have to likely better his quarterfinal result to jump into the top 10. The last home country player to win the most prestigious title in Italy was Adriano Panatta in 1976.
Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece comes into Rome as the ATP Tour match wins leader, earning his 27th win of the season with his semifinal victory over Nadal at Madrid. Tsitsipas was ranked No. 43 at Rome in 2018, and had to qualify for last year’s main draw. His win in Portugal on the clay earlier this season and his final-round effort in Madrid make him a tennis betting contender for the title in Rome and later this year in Paris.