A daily update on the key matchups to look out for in the upcoming day's play on the ATP Tour.
**Matches will be ordered by approximate timing of play rather than appearance by court. Therefore there may be some overlap of matches.
Rome (Final) - If the date were not different, and the name of the city were not significantly different in length, anyone would wonder if this preview could just be that of the final 2 weeks ago in Monte Carlo. The same two men are at the finishing line, but Nadal is ironically the hunter of Djokovic's Roman crown. With a match that promises so much quality and intensity, there is little to discuss in the way of what form each player brings into the match...
...just sit back and enjoy the indulgence of pure, unadulterated claycourt mastery and competitive tennis, from two of the best players of this generation.
Stadio Pietrangeli - Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic
What do you say about a match that is a repeat of one exactly two weeks ago, where the same two people meet when very little has changed since? From Monte Carlo to Rome, and three weeks before the French Open begins, nothing much more needs to be confirmed nor any question remaining unanswered.
The circumstances might be different - a slightly faster surface, a different city, a different defending champion - but the elements are still the same. Nadal remains ever dominant on clay with an overwhelming head to head over Djokovic, and Djokovic remains the prime pretender to Nadal's crown on clay, yet even for him it remains out of reach.
So, does this mean the match is a foregone conclusion? Is every tournament on clay finished even before it has begun? Is Nadal's dominance on clay draining the competitive excitement for spectators during the clay season?
Sometimes, overthinking the significance of a match or a matchup can give us a pretty bleak outlook on something that should always hold a sense of uncertainty for the sake of excitement and anticipation, such that sport should be. But more often than not, it takes away from the simple beauty of watching a tennis match, and watching those repetitive elements fuse together for that 2-3 hours of anticipation at every shot, rather than the anticipation of who will win the match.
Instead of musing over how Nadal or Djokovic may play based on their form throughout the tournament, perhaps the key to looking forward to this match is to look back at Monte Carlo and all the little truths it held for us.
Nadal is still what he is, but Djokovic was handed a glimmer of hope that point by point he can give Nadal something to think about; but that his own mental resolve to make it last an entire match rather than become jaded as he did in the final set, is very much down to him.
Today Djokovic stands as the defending champion - not Nadal as in Monte Carlo; and if significant at all the fight to stay no3 (which I actually don't believe will factor much when he's buried in the match) adds that little something extra; so perhaps if anything at all, Djokovic can decide on his own if this match will be different to the one in Monte Carlo.
Undoubtedly, Djokovic is playing that bit better than their last meeting, but then his match alone with Nadal was a step up in performance than he had produced in all of 10 months. Does that mean he can convert a 3 set loss to a 3 set win over Nadal on clay?
Perhaps if we look beyond all the little 'facts' that everyone raises only to come to the same conclusion over and over again - that Nadal is unbeatable on clay right now - it might be worth absorbing this statement a tennis writer I quite like wrote very recently:
"Sometimes, as hard as you might try to analyze it, a tennis match remains a tennis match and nothing much more."
...and maybe it might become easier to accept that each and every point has a winner and loser, and that is NEVER a foregone conclusion. The beauty of a tennis match, is that it is still a tennis match regardless of who is playing. It still has be played - and Nadal still has to earn it as much as Djokovic.
Full Schedule of Play:
Full Men's Draw: