- Neither is at the top of his game, but Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are favored to win in Rome
- Nadal, who has won Rome nine times, was shocked out of Madrid last week by Alexander Zverev
- The most in-form players on the spring clay are not the top favorites. We look at who might surprise
Another clay-court tournament, another occasion for Rafael Nadal to top the list of favorites.
At +160, the nine-time champion is well ahead of five-time champion Novak Djokovic and the rest of the field for this week’s Italian Open.
ATP Internazionali BNL d’Italia Odds
|||Rafael Nadal (ESP)||+160|
|||Novak Djokovic (SRB)||+350|
|||Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)||+650|
|||Dominic Thiem (AUT)||+750|
|||Alexander Zverev (GER)||+1000|
|||Andrey Rublev (RUS)||+2000|
|||Daniil Medvedev (RUS)||+2200|
|–||Aslan Karatsev (RUS)||+2500|
|–||Jannik Sinner (ITA)||+3300|
|||Diego Schwartzman (ARG)||+5000|
|–||Casper Ruud (NOR)||+5000|
|||Matteo Berrettini (ITA)||+5000|
|–||Cristian Garin (CHI)||+8000|
|||Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP)||+10000|
|||Pablo Carreño Busta (ESP)||+12500|
|–||Kei Nishikori (JPN)||+15000|
|–||Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO)||+30000|
Odds as of May 8th
But is he really the one people expect will hold up the big trophy on Sunday?
Well, it’s complicated.
Top Guns Not in Top Form for Rome
Nadal’s clay spring has been a bit fraught.
Rublev beat him in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals. He won Barcelona purely on compete level. And in Madrid last week, he was unusually flustered in a straight-sets loss to Alexander Zverev.
🚨🚨 UPSET ALERT 🚨🚨: Rafael Nadal, four-time champion on clay in Madrid, falls to Alexander Zverev, 6-4, 6-4.
For only the third time since 2005, Rafa will head into Rome without having already won a clay Masters.
The German, meanwhile, was masterful.https://t.co/t4pG5yZobu
— TENNIS (@Tennis) May 7, 2021
The Mallorcan prefers Rome to Madrid – by a lot. He rightly feels the conditions are closest to the ones at the French Open, which is his main focus.
But beyond winning a 10th title, there is less incentive. Nadal can’t improve on his ranking and go into Paris as the No. 2 seed even if he wins it.
As for Djokovic, he, too is short of matches.
The world No. 1 lost early to Dan Evans in Monte Carlo. And then he was beaten by Aslan Karatsev in the semifinals of the tournament at his own club in Belgrade.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) April 15, 2021
He skipped Madrid, as he expects to play at a new, extra tournament at his club the week before the French Open.
Madrid-Rome Double Tough to Master
Back-to-back Masters 1000s, especially on clay, are a tough double-header.
So Madrid finalists Zverev and Matteo Berrettini and semifinalists Ruud and Thiem will struggle to rev it back up again.
On the plus side, Zverev and Thiem have first-round byes. And Thiem will want to go after it, having played better in Madrid than he expected to after a long layoff.
Internazionali BNL d’Italia Contenders – Best Previous Results
|Player||Trips to Rome||Career W/L||Best Result|
|Rafael Nadal||16||63-7||Champion (9X)|
|Novak Djokovic||14||55-9||Champion (5X)|
|Stefanos Tsitsipas||3||3-3||SF (2019)|
|Dominic Thiem||5||8-5||SF (2017)|
|Alexander Zverev||4||11-3||Champion (2017)|
|Andrey Rublev||2||1-1||R32 (2020)|
|Daniil Medvedev||2||0-2||R64 (2018-19)|
|Casper Ruud||2||6-2||SF (2020)|
Watch Out for Schwartzman
The 2020 Rome finalist has struggled in 2021 (other than his title in Buenos Aires), in large part because of a racquet change.
But he’s showing signs of life. And he’s secure knowing he can keep 50 per cent of his 2020 Rome ranking points if he doesn’t have a good week.
But the biggest reason he could surprise is his draw. Schwartzman is in the same quarter as No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev, who has never won a match in Rome.
Previous Italian Open Winners and Finalists
|2020|| Novak Djokovic (held in September)|| Diego Schwartzman|
|2019|| Rafael Nadal|| Novak Djokovic|
|2018|| Rafael Nadal|| Alexander Zverev|
|2017|| Alexander Zverev|| Novak Djokovic|
|2016|| Andy Murray|| Novak Djokovic|
|2015|| Novak Djokovic|| Roger Federer|
|2014|| Novak Djokovic|| Rafael Nadal|
|2013|| Rafael Nadal|| Roger Federer|
First-Round Matches to Watch
There are remarkably few first-round matches with blowout odds, which is the sign of a well-balanced draw.
Félix Auger-Aliassime (-127) vs Filip Krajinovic (+102)
Auger-Aliassime has been getting tough early-round draws and hasn’t been consistent enough to win matches he’s capable of winning. And he’s never won a match in Rome.
At the 2020 edition last September, he fell to Krajinovic in the first round. The Canadian is 0-2 against the Serb at the ATP Tour level. Unless there’s a burst of inspiration, he could be 0-3.
 Denis Shapovalov (+162) vs. Casper Ruud (-200)
Just four months apart, these two have never met in the pros or the juniors.
Ruud will come in weary from Madrid. Shapovalov needs the win more than Ruud does at this point.
So it might come down to nerves. But 2020 semifinalist Shapovalov, on a good day, has a real shot.
Best Bet: Rafael Nadal (+160)
Longer shot: Dominic Thiem (+750)