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Ricky’s tennis picks for Wednesday at the Rome Masters, including Nadal vs. Isner

Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d’Italia Facebook

By Ricky Dimon

Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev will be back in action in Rome after seeing their Madrid runs come to an end at the hands of Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal is opening with John Isner, while Zverev faces a much different kind of opponent in Sebastian Baez.

Here are my previews and picks for those two matchups.

(3) Rafael Nadal vs. John Isner

Nadal and Isner will be squaring off for the ninth time in their careers and for the first time since 2017 when they meet again in round two of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Wednesday. The head-to-head series stands at 7-1 in favor of Nadal, although it is really a clean 7-0 sweep for the Spaniard since Isner’s lone victory has come in the Laver Cup. Nadal is 4-0 on clay, although two of their showdowns on the red stuff have required final sets and they famously waged a five-set battle in the French Open first round back in 2011 (the King of Clay survived 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-4 and of course went on to win the title).

Rome has not been quite as successful as Roland Garros for Nadal, but it’s close. The 35-year-old has won it 10 times–most recently last year when he navigated a tough draw featuring Jannik Sinner, Denis Shapovalov, Alexander Zverev, Reilly Opelka, and Novak Djokovic. Nadal has played only one clay-court event this spring because of a rib injury and he won two matches in Madrid before falling to eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals. Isner, who beat Francisco Cerundolo 6-4, 6-3 on Tuesday, won both Indian Wells and Miami in doubles but is just 11-10 in singles this season. Although the 6’11” American is always dangerous, his form isn’t great right now and a relatively slow clay-court tournament is the last place where he would want to face Nadal.

Pick: Nadal in 2

Qualifier Sebastian Baez of Argentina will try to topple second-seeded Alexander Zverev. EPA-EFE/MATTEO BAZZI

(Q) Sebastian Baez vs. (2) Alexander Zverev

Zverev made a return trip to the Madrid final last week, but the defending champion fell one step short of going back-to-back–which is understandable since he also had to go up against Alcaraz. It was an energy-sapping run for the third-ranked German, who consistently found himself playing the night session and was very short on sleep. This will be a quick turnaround for him going to a tournament in which he is just 2-2 in his last two appearances.

More bad news for Zverev is that Baez is up first on Wednesday. The fast-rising Argentine already has three wins under his belt in Rome, having qualified for the main draw before beating Tallon Griekspoor on Monday. Baez has already earned 16 of his 19 career ATP-level match victories this season, including two finals and a title in Estoril. Already up to 37th in the rankings, the 21-year-old has a chance to be seeded at Roland Garros if he upsets Zverev. Don’t be surprised if it happens.

Pick: Baez in 3

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