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Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal Prediction – ATP Italian Open Finals

Stephanie Myles

by Stephanie Myles in Tennis

May 15, 2021 · 7:15 PM PDT

Rafael Nadal celebrates
Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning his semi-final match against United States' Reiley Opelka at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Saturday, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
  • Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will meet for the 57th time Sunday in the Italian Open final (11 am EDT)
  • Nadal played just two sets in a brisk 92 minutes Saturday to beat Reilly Opelka in the semifinals
  • Djokovic was on court for nearly five hours to survive his quarterfinal and semifinal matches

For their 57th meeting, and first since the French Open final last October, Rafael Nadal comes in fresh.

Longtime rival Novak Djokovic comes in baked.

ATP Italian Open Final Odds

Player Spread Moneyline at DraftKings Total
[1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) +2.5 (+108) +170 O 22.5 (+100)
[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) -2.5 (-137) -220 U 22.5 (-127)

Odds as of May 15

Bad luck with the weather on Friday meant Djokovic, who turns 34 next week, was on court at 11 am Saturday morning in Rome to finish his quarterfinal match against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

By the time he left his post-match press conference, after beating  Lorenzo Sonego 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2 to reach the final, it was 10:15 pm.

New Day, Different Djokovic vs Tsitsipas

With the rain Friday turning the Center Court at the Foro Italico into a mud pit, Djokovic and Tsitsipas never found a single dry moment before their quarterfinal match was finally called, with Djokovic down a set and a break.

Back Saturday morning under sunny skies, Djokovic was a new man. Down and out numerous times, he somehow prevailed.

It took, as Djokovic put it later, “a bit of luck, a bit of mental strength, right tactics at the right time.”

Djokovic survives nightcap vs Sonego

By 6:30 pm, with Nadal nestled securely, feet up, in the La-Z-Boy in his hotel suite, Djokovic returned for more.

The Serb’s court position was aggressive, his economy of motion a veteran move. He seemed set for a 6-3, 6-4 victory. But…

“I have myself to blame for allowing this match to go to a third set because I served for the match, had match points, made some double-faults on 4-2 in the tiebreak when I was up,” Djokovic said.

But after dropping the second set in a tiebreak, Djokovic got to work.

Finally, he came out on top.

But the full tank of fuel any opponent needs against Nadal on clay is unlikely to be there.

Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal Head-to-Head

Novak Djokovic
Rafael Nadal
33 (May 22, 1987) Age 34 (June 3, 1986)
Belgrade, Serbia Birthplace Manacor, Mallorca
6-2 Height 6-1
82 Career ATP Singles Titles 87
No. 1 (July 4, 2011) Career High Ranking No. 1 (Aug. 18, 2008)
No. 1 Current Ranking  No. 2
$147,820,035 Career Prize Money $124,181,960
15-2 2021 Won/Loss record 17-3
29 Career Head-to-Head 27

Nadal dispatches Big-Serving Opelka

Meanwhile Nadal, who had completed his relatively routine quarterfinal win over Alexander Zverev before the rain came Friday, was efficient again against 6-11 American Reilly Opelka.

As expected, most of the points were short. Nadal needed just an hour and 32 minutes to wrap things up.

He ran a total of 983 metres (1,075 yards) during that victory.

In the completion of his match against Tsitsipas and the three-setter against Sonego, Djokovic ran a total of nearly 6,000 yards (6,560 metres) Saturday.

The math is pretty easy on that one. Djokovic legs got the ultimate workout; Nadal’s legs will be fresh and ready to go for the final on Sunday.

Novak Djokovic  vs. Rafael Nadal Clay History

Year Tournament Round Score Winner
2020 French Open Final 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 Nadal
2019 Rome Masters Final 6-0,4-6, 6-1 Nadal
2018 Rome Masters SF 7-6 (4), 6-3 Nadal
2017 Madrid Masters SF 6-2, 6-4 Nadal
2016 Rome Masters QF 7-5, 7-6 (4) Djokovic
2015 French Open QF 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 Djokovic
2015 Monte Carlo SF 6-3, 6-3 Djokovic
2014 French Open F 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 Nadal
2014 Rome Masters F 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 Djokovic

Nadal the Clay Master since 2016

It has been nearly five years since Djokovic defeated Nadal on a clay court – in the same arena in Rome, in the quarterfinals of the 2016 edition.

Even if Djokovic leads their career rivalry 29-27, Nadal is 18-7 on clay against him.  Notably, four of those seven victories came in seasons when Djokovic was nearly untouchable.

Two of them came in 2011, when Djokovic went 70-6 and won 10 titles and after Nadal had won their first nine clau encounters.

Two more came in 2015, when he went 82-6 and won 11 titles.

Of those seven Djokovic victories, all but one came in straight sets.

Nadal is 3-2 in Rome finals between the two.

In short: Nadal and clay are a huge challenge for Djokovic in ideal conditions. And he has only ever won one three-setter against him on the dirt.

After all the work the Serb did Saturday to get there, the spirit may be willing, but the legs might not follow.

Best Bet: Nadal  (-220) – in two sets (+117)

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