Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will continue their Rome Masters campaigns during third-round action on Thursday. Nadal is facing Jack Sock, while Djokovic is going up against Roberto Bautista Agut.
(13) Jack Sock vs. (4) Rafael Nadal
Nadal and Sock will be going head-to-head for the fourth time in their careers when they collide in round three of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Thursday. All three of their previous encounters have gone the way of Nadal, although Sock has at least managed to take a set on two of three occasions. The Spaniard prevailed in four sets at the 2015 French Open, via a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 decision a few months later in Beijing, and 6-2, 6-3 earlier this season at the Miami Masters.
Nothing suggests that another clay-court matchup will help Sock turn the tide. After all, Nadal is 16-0 on the surface in 2017 with consecutive titles in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid. Although it is certainly not the way the world No. 4 would want to advance, he could use some rest right now and that is exactly what he got when countryman Nicolas Almagro retired down 3-0 in the first set on Wednesday. Sock’s road to the last 16 could not have been more different. The 14th-ranked American scraped past Diego Schwartzman 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 in his opener before outlasting Jiri Vesely in a third-set tiebreaker. Sock is an outstanding 22-7 this year and says that clay his favorite surface, but a red-hot opponent and a pair of three-setters (and two doubles matches) in his legs should will not help his long-shot upset bid.
Pick: Nadal in 2 losing 8-10 games
Roberto Bautista Agut vs. (2) Novak Djokovic
Whereas world No. 1 Andy Murray continues to lose early at just about every tournament he enters, Djokovic is at least starting to show some signs of life as he heads into third-round action in Rome on Thursday. The second-ranked Serb got some help from Kei Nishikori in Madrid (quarterfinal walkover), but he also picked up wins over Almagro and Feliciano Lopez before playing a decent second set against Nadal in a 6-2, 6-4 loss. Djokovic advanced earlier this week by beating an in-form Aljaz Bedene 7-6(2), 6-2.
Up next for the 12-time Grand Slam champion is a seventh career meeting with Bautista Agut. Djokovic leads the head-to-head series 5-1 (including 2-0 on clay), with his lone blemish coming at the Shanghai Masters last fall. Bautista Agut gave himself another shot at the No. 2 seed thanks to victories this week over lucky loser Alexandr Dolgopolov and fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. The latter showdown lasted two hours and 38 minutes on Wednesday night and neither player looked anywhere close to fresh at the end of it. This is a good opportunity for Djokovic to continue gaining much-needed confidence.
Pick: Djokovic in 2