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ATP Tennis From Rome • Ricky’s Preview And Picks For The 2018 Semis • Nadal vs. Djokovic And Cilic vs. Zverev

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Fabio Fognini of Italy during their men’s singles quarter final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, 18 May 2018. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI



By Ricky Dimon


One of the best rivalries in the current era of tennis will add another chapter following a one-year hiatus when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic square off again in the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Saturday. A red-hot Alexander Zverev is also in action, as he faces Marin Cilic. Ricky previews the action and makes his predictions.


(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (11) Novak Djokovic

Djokovic is one of just two active players–along with Dustin Brown–who owns a winning record of any kind against Nadal. After once trailing the Spaniard 14-4, the Serb now leads the head-to-head series 26-24 after winning 22 of their last 32 encounters dating back to the summer of 2009. He is also 19-8 dating back to the start of 2011 and had won seven in a row before falling to Nadal 6-2, 6-4 on the clay of Madrid last season. The sudden drought in their rivalry can be easily explained, as Djokovic missed the second half of 2017 due to various physical problems and has been slow to return in 2018. He showed signs of his former self by winning three matches at the Australian Open, but the see-saw comeback took a turn for the worse with a straight-set loss to Hyeon Chung (Aussie Open fourth round) and much worse setbacks against Taro Daniel (Indian Wells) and Benoit Paire (Miami).


Djokovic’s clay-court swing began with a modest 3-3 record through three events, but it all may be turning around for him just in time for the French Open. The world No. 18 has won four matches at a single tournament for the first time this year, beating Alexandr Dolgopolov, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, and Kei Nishikori en route to the semis. It will take an incredible physical effort to recover from a two-hour, 20-minute battle and go up against the King of Clay on his favorite surface one day later. Is Nadal beatable on clay? Well, yes; it just happened when Dominic Thiem took him down in the Madrid quarters last week. Fabio Fognini also stole a set off of him on Friday, but conditions suit Nadal more favorably in Rome than they do in Madrid and he really has not come close to losing this week–not even to Fognini. The 31-year-old preceded his win over the Italian by clobbering Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 6-0 and Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 6-1. Two recent wins over Nishikori are promising for Djokovic, but he has not defeated anyone in the top 20 since Eastbourne last summer and it has been exactly one year since his last top-10 victory (over Thiem in the 2017 Rome semifinals).

Pick: Nadal in 2


(4) Marin Cilic vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

Germany’s Alexander Zverev in action against Britain’s Kyle Edmund during their men’s singles third round match of the Italian Open tennis tournament at the Foro Italico in Rome, Italy, 17 May 2018. EPA-EFE/CLAUDIO ONORATI

Zverev is a masters of the Masters. At 21 years old, he has already won three of these events–including the Internazionali BNL d’Italia last spring. Zverev also triumphed last summer on the hard courts of Montreal and just last week lifted the trophy in Madrid while also finishing runner-up earlier this season in Miami. Despite a heavy workload that includes a 16-2 record on clay dating back to early April, Zverev has not yet run out of gas in Rome. The world No. 3, who did not lose a set or even drop serve in Madrid, went on a 23-set winning streak before finally dropping one in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over David Goffin during quarterfinal action on Friday. Zverev preceded that result by making straight-set work of Matteo Berrettini and Kyle Edmund.


Zverev’s reward is a sixth career meeting with Cilic. The German leads the head-to-head series 4-1 and has won four straight at the Croat’s expense since losing their first encounter at the 2015 Washington, D.C. event. Zverev has since prevailed three times on hard courts and once on clay–the latter via a 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-4 decision last spring in Madrid. Three of Zverev’s victories have required deciding sets and they have never played a match that was anything more lopsided than 7-5, 7-6(3), which was the score by which Cilic got the job done three years ago in D.C. Cilic, a quarterfinalist in Monte-Carlo, is heating up just in time for the French Open with Rome wins over Ryan Harrison (in a final-set tiebreaker), Benoit Paire, and Pablo Carreno Busta. Both players have prepared well for this match–Cilic by gaining momentum and winning a quick one on Friday; Zverev in terms of unprecedented confidence. Against a fellow big hitter who will be able to dictate plenty of rallies, Zverev’s run may finally end.

Pick: Cilic in 3


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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