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Internazionali BNL d’Italia – Nadal, Djokovic favorites in Rome ATP event

Stephanie Myles

by Stephanie Myles in Tennis

May 8, 2021 · 5:13 PM PDT

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic hugging at the end of a tennis match.
Rafael Nadal, right, of Spain embraces Novak Djokovic of Serbia at the end of their final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Sunday, May 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
  • 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

Seed Player Odds
[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) +160
[1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) +350
[5] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) +650
[4] Dominic Thiem (AUT) +750
[6] Alexander Zverev (GER) +1000
[7] Andrey Rublev (RUS) +2000
[3] Daniil Medvedev (RUS) +2200
Aslan Karatsev (RUS) +2500
Jannik Sinner (ITA) +3300
 [8] Diego Schwartzman (ARG) +5000
Casper Ruud (NOR) +5000
[9] Matteo Berrettini (ITA) +5000
Cristian Garin (CHI) +8000
[10] Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) +10000
[11] 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.

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.

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

Year Champion Finalist
2020 [1] Novak Djokovic (held in September) [8] Diego Schwartzman
2019 [2] Rafael Nadal [1] Novak Djokovic
2018 [1] Rafael Nadal [2] Alexander Zverev
2017 [16] Alexander Zverev [2] Novak Djokovic
2016 [2] Andy Murray [1] Novak Djokovic
2015 [1] Novak Djokovic [2] Roger Federer
2014 [2] Novak Djokovic [1] Rafael Nadal
2013 [5] Rafael Nadal [2] 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.

[11] 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)

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