Two familiar foes do battle this afternoon in the final of the Rome Masters, with Novak Djokovic facing Rafa Nadal. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, previews the clash...
"In main tour matches on clay against each other, Nadal has won over 70% against Djokovic, winning around 4% more service points (and therefore 4% more return points) and has won almost two-thirds of sets - accurately illustrating the task ahead of the world number one today."
Back to the old routine today in Rome
After a season so far which has been refreshing in that there have been a number of new faces reaching the latter stages of big tournaments, it's back to the old routine today in Rome with Novak Djokovic facing Rafa Nadal at 16:00 UK time this afternoon.
Career history suggests Nadal with edge on clay
The duo have split their four main tour meetings in the last thee years, with Djokovic winning on grass and hard court, but Nadal winning both (including five of six sets) on his preferred clay. That includes last October's French Open final, which resulted in a 6-0 6-2 7-5 victory for the King of Clay, and in their previous clay encounter before this - the final here two years ago - Nadal also won several sets easily en route to a 6-0 4-6 6-1 triumph.
In main tour matches on clay against each other, Nadal has won over 70% against Djokovic.
Delving into the data from these, Nadal is winning around 4% more service points (and therefore 4% more return points) and has won almost two-thirds of sets - accurately illustrating the task ahead of the world number one today.
Market pricing similar to 2019 Rome final
The current market line of 1.511/2 on Nadal is pretty much in line with that career history. However, it's shorter than that price in Paris last year where he was around the 1.758/11 mark. In that Rome final two years ago, it was about 1.558/15 in favour of Nadal - broadly similar to today. I actually make it very similar to that earlier Rome line today, suggesting that the current market price on Nadal is a little short, but not particularly so.
After last week in Madrid, it was easy to suggest Nadal wasn't able to dominate on clay currently, as he has done in the past, but it has to be remembered that the Spanish capital's venue generally has quicker conditions which aren't to his liking. Saying that, while Nadal has got to the final this week, he's not been at his typical best on return, only winning around 42% of return points to get to this stage - about 3% lower than Djokovic has managed in his four previous matches this week.
Djokovic potentially fatigued after Saturday's exertions
Some readers might think that the two last paragraphs mean that there could be some value on Djokovic but I want to bring in a further complication - Djokovic's activity yesterday. Due to Friday's rain delays, he played five sets on Saturday - the two remaining against Stefanos Tsitsipas where he fought back from a set and break down - and then three against Lorenzo Sonego last night as well in a match which lasted not far from three hours.
These extra exertions are certainly not a positive for Djokovic in what will always be an extremely testing match-up against arguably the best clay-courter the world has ever seen, and with all things considered, I'm not going against the market pricing here.
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