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|
| Novak Djokovic (SRB)||+2.5 (+108)||+170||O 22.5 (+100)|
| 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.”
No. 1 @DjokerNole spends 4:56 on court Saturday to reach 11th @InteBNLdItalia final, sweeping Tsitsipas and Sonego in 3 sets.
On Sunday, Djokovic meets @RafaelNadal for 9th time in Rome (Nadal 5-3). Djokovic leads Nadal for most #ATPMasters1000 titles (36-35) and finals (53-52).
— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) May 15, 2021
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
|33 (May 22, 1987)||Age||34 (June 3, 1986)|
|Belgrade, Serbia||Birthplace||Manacor, Mallorca|
|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|
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
|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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Stephanie gets the straight dope from the tennis insiders. On court, she has represented her country internationally. A BA in journalism led to years on the MLB beat and a decade covering tennis globally. She’s written for Postmedia, the Guardian, the New York Times and also publishes OpenCourt.ca.