So Rafael Nadal is human on clay!
One week after the “King of Clay” showed vulnerability in his quarterfinal loss to Dominic Thiem at the Madrid Open, Nadal will look to regain his winning ways in Rome at the Italian Championships. Nadal has won in Rome seven times, less than his 11 titles each in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and his 10 titles at Roland Garros, but, by any other normal professional standards, is amazing.
Against Thiem in Madrid, Nadal had his 21-match and 50-set clay-court winning streaks come to an end. To boot, he fell from the top ranking by not winning the title, surrendering the top spot to Roger Federer. However, Nadal is still 14-1 in matches and 30-2 in sets on clay this year. He will return the No. 1 ranking on 21 May if he captures his the title at the Foro Italico. While Nadal has won a record seven times in Rome, he has not won there since 2013. He lost in the quarterfinals in 2015, 2016 and 2017 after falling to Djokovic in the 2014 final. Rome is the only clay-court event where Nadal has made four consecutive appearances without a title.
Nadal faces the strongest ATP World Tour field of the season with 18 of the Top 20 players vying for the title. Four-time champion Novak Djokovic and defending champion Alexander Zverev are former champs in the field. Djokovic continues to struggle this year and is only 6-6 in 2018 and seeking his first quarterfinal of the season as he continues his comeback from a right elbow injury. The former world No. 1 is responsible for 19% of Nadal’s losses on clay, earning three of seven clay-court victories over his Spanish rival in Rome.
Zverev, the world No. 3, won ATP Masters 1000 titles last year in Rome and Montreal and is coming in on a high after defeating Thiem in the final of Madrid. Zverev’s serve, in particular, was impressive in Madrid, not losing serve and barely losing points on his deliveries. If he can keep up that success in Rome – and avoid mental and physical fatigue – he will be a tough out.
Thiem beat Nadal in the quarterfinals of Rome last year and combined with his win over Nadal last week in Madrid – and two semifinal showings at the French Open – make him and Zverev the next two betting favorites in Rome – and in Paris – other than Nadal. With three wins over Nadal on clay in his career, Thiem is one of three men with three wins over Nadal on clay, joining Djokovic (7) and Gaston Gaudio (3).
World No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro is 22-5 in 2018, highlighted by his first ATP Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells, where he saved three championship points to defeat Federer. Despite his high credentials and South American upbringing on the clay in Argentina, del Potro has not reached a semifinal on a clay court since Madrid in 2012. Kevin Anderson, the world No. 8, and John Isner, the world No. 9, are at career-high rankings following impressive starts to their seasons. The 6-foot-8 Anderson, the 2017 US Open runner-up, reached his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal last week in Madrid after winning his fourth ATP title in New York. The 6-foot-10 Isner defeated del Potro and Zverev to capture his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Miami.