There's another Masters 1000 taking place on the ATP Tour, with the Rome Masters following last week's Madrid Masters. Dan Weston likes Rafa's chance of another clay win...
"It wouldn't be a particularly big surprise to me if Nadal got back to winning ways this week in Rome, and picked up the title in what is likely to be his last event before the French Open which takes place in just under three weeks."
Conditions not likely to be as quick in Rome
In Alexander Zverev and Matteo Berrettini, there were two surprise finalists in Madrid last week, with Rafa Nadal falling in the quarter-finals to Zverev and Novak Djokovic not participating in the event. There was also an early loss for Stefanos Tsitsipas, while Dominic Thiem eased himself back into competitive action following a knee injury.
While conditions in Madrid are quick for clay courts - which has proved a slight leveller for Nadal compared to the field - Rome is not likely to be as quick as the Spanish capital. Nadal has won five titles from 2010 onwards in Rome, and reached the final in two others which is clearly impressive, but not nearly as dominant as he is in some of the big tournaments played on slower clay.
Conditions in Rome are likely to be very slightly quicker than the ATP clay average, with aces per game and service points won figures a little bigger than the three-year clay mean for each of the two metrics, so while Nadal will be happier with less pace, it's still not going to be as much to his liking compared to Monte Carlo and Roland Garros.
Nadal and Djokovic taking around 60% of the outright market
Nadal's task is further complicated by the addition of Djokovic to the field from last week, and this is why the King of Clay has been pushed out to 2.6613/8 at the time of writing in the outright market - slightly bigger than last week. With Djokovic taking just over 20% of the outright book and being priced at 4.804/1, the duo have an implied tournament win percentage of around 60% prior to the tournament starting.
Nadal with theoretically easier draw
Seeded in opposite halves of the draw, Nadal and Djokovic are drawn to meet each other in the final, but Djokovic's task looks tougher - he has to potentially face any of the likes of Tsitsipas, Thiem and also Andrey Rublev in his half of the draw plus Madrid finalist Berrettini in the mix as well - the world number one's top half looks far more problematic than Nadal's bottom half in general.
Diego Schwartzman, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev are the seeded players with first round byes in Nadal's bottom half of the draw and it will be fascinating to see how Zverev backs up his title in Madrid. Medvedev has much to prove on clay - his distaste for the surface is noted - while Nadal is 10-1 in his career against Schwartzman having never been priced in excess of 1.201/5 for any of those matches. Interestingly, that one loss did come here in Rome last year.
Nadal also has to potentially face talented young players in Jannik Sinner and Lorenzo Musetti in his half of the draw, but I'd much rather his path to the final than Djokovic's, which looks very tricky indeed.
It wouldn't be a particularly big surprise to me if Nadal got back to winning ways this week in Rome, and picked up the title in what is likely to be his last event before the French Open which takes place in just under three weeks.
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