Another meeting between familiar foes Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem is set for Friday in Rome. Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro are also aiming for a place in the semifinals of the season’s last clay-court Masters 1000 event.
(8) Dominic Thiem vs. (4) Rafael Nadal
Nadal and Thiem will be squaring off for the sixth time in their careers (all on clay) and for the third time during this clay-court swing when they meet again in the quarterfinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Friday. The head-to-head series stands at 4-1 in favor of Nadal, who recently won title matches over Thiem 6-4, 6-1 in Barcelona and 7-6(8), 6-4 in Madrid. Although this is their third showdown in such a short time frame, the seventh-ranked Austrian actually came close to getting zero shots at Nadal prior to the French Open. He outlasted Andy Murray 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the Barcelona semis, saved five match points against Grigor Dimitrov in the Madrid third round, and fought off three match points before beating Sam Querrey 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(7) on Thursday in Rome.
As usual, Nadal has taken the much more routine path into another battle against Thiem. The fourth-ranked Spaniard has not surrendered a set this week, taking out Nicolas Almagro (via a first-set retirement) and Jack Sock. In fact, Nadal has not dropped a single set since his opening match in Madrid (vs. Fabio Fognini) and he has surrendered only two on clay this spring. Thiem’s 15-3 record on the red stuff in 2017 is outstanding, but Nadal is a perfect 17-0 on the surface. An obvious favorite even with all things being equal, the 14-time major champion should enjoy even more of an edge with his opponent coming off another tough day at the office.
Pick: Nadal in 2
Juan Martin Del Potro vs. (2) Novak Djokovic
Djokovic and Del Potro will be facing each other for the 18th time in their careers on Friday. The head-to-head series is being dominated by Djokovic 13-4, but they have delivered more than their fair share of dramatic matches over the years. That includes a 7-6(4), 7-6(2) upset in Del Potro’s favor at last summer’s Rio Olympics and a pair of three-set victories already this season for Djokovic (in Acapuclo and Indian Wells).
A matchup worthy of the Rome final that is once again coming too early (this time in the quarters), Djokovic-Del Potro did not come close to being denied. The world No. 2 made his way to the last eight by picking up straight-set wins over Aljaz Bedene and Roberto Bautista Agut. Del Potro has dropped one set this week, but he had no trouble erasing an early deficit against Grigor Dimitrov and he parlayed that success into more routine defeats of Kyle Edmund and Kei Nishikori. The 34th-ranked Argentine, who has locked up a seed at Roland Garros, is 10-4 this season and 4-0 on clay. While Djokovic is showing signs of improvement, his timing remains a little off and baseline errors are still too common. The big-hitting Del Potro should be able to dictate with his forehand and keep the Serb off balance.
Pick: Del Potro in 3