Rome QF previews and predictions: Nadal vs. Thiem, Djokovic vs. Del Potro

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

104 Comments on Rome QF previews and predictions: Nadal vs. Thiem, Djokovic vs. Del Potro

  1. I think Rafa can just call it a day, nothing is going his way. Just goes back home, takes a good rest and starts preparing for the FO; that’s more important.

    Leave it to the rest to fight for this Rome title. Other than Djoko, the others have not won a single Masters title.

    See, Rafa let it go to deuce again!

  2. It’s just not possible to win all four events just before the FO. Rafa should skip Rome in future, wasting energy playing it, esp as he gets older.

      • Yeah, Mira I know, but Rafa always want to play and to try.

        The positive about this loss is Rafa can have more time to rest now and work on his game. If he wants to win FO, he has to play short point tennis IMO, and that’s why I don’t like seeing him rallying with Thiem at Madrid. Thiem may be getting the pressure now at the FO, so Rafa has someone now to share the pressure as favorites there!

        Rafa is giving his hard hitting opponents too much ground to work with. He standing so far back in this match is allowing Thiem to hit anywhere at will and to even move forward when Rafa hits a short ball. It happened to him as far back as in 2011 vs Djoko on clay; so it’s a bad habit that he couldn’t change.

        Rafa played better vs Sock, I feel the conditions last night was better than the windy conditions today, which caused Rafa to lose his first service game. Sock was also hitting hard and serving big but Rafa played better yesterday because he stepped inside the court more often, served better too.

        It’s unfortunate that Rafa lost his first service game, if not there’re still chances for him to fight to win the first set. With two losses of service games, it’s hard to fight back when Thiem was serving so well.

    • Exactly VR, why is Rafa not adjusting his return positions? Since it’s not so successful, why not adjust? See, BPs missed again, how many must he squander??

    • well it’s not exactly crap performance. It is decent but he has come up against a very inspired player who is proving to be a very very good clay courter.

  3. This is a blessing. Le Theim and Djoker slug it out tomorrow. Better to lose today than lose to Djoker tomorrow. Take rest and prepare for the major.

      • I don’t see this is too concerning. I am confident he can handle Thiem should they meet at RG.

        Rafa can go home, relax for a few days and head to paris earlier.

      • I agree with Ricky. Absolutely.

        There goes the winning streak and the # 3 ranking.

        Rafa just gave Thiem a big boost heading into RG.

        • still don’t think anyone other than Thiem has the firepower on clay to beat Rafa at RG

          and Thiem likely can’t do that for 3 sets

          • don’t forget that Rafa let Thiem unleash all of that firepower today. Rafa can play FAR more aggressively than this off both wings and serve better and return better! Look for his forehand to have a lot more pop at RG. He will move thiem from side to side more and push him back more as well.

          • Ricky,

            Yes, you are right about that. It’s a tough task to take out Rafa at RG!

            I feel better!

          • Lots of people have the firepower to take out Rafa on clay, on a given day. Very few have that and the consistency required to make it at all likely. Stan is the first that comes to mind (in a slam), but Zverev, Kyrgios, Cilic are a few others that would have a decent shot.

            • Again, on a given day, anything can happen; that’s what great about high level sport. How many people called Rafa getting dusted today in two sets, winning 7 games? Hands up.

  4. Thiem is playing great but Rafa is playing poorly by his standard – Serve not good, slow, too defensive, returns poor, full of misfirings.

    Not a good performance by Rafa, but credit to Thiem for playing so well, hardly missing his first serves.

    Rafa often caught out of positions, a bridge too far for him to win here. See, another deuce on his service game! He’s just so poor in his serving today.

    • Joe,

      Don’t go my thinking for me and don’t speak for me. I said a few times here that this was s match that concerned me. It’s not for nothing that I have watched this sport all my life.

      I knew the Thiem had been pushing Rafa and would come out guns blazing. But you read too much into this win at your peril, taking out Rafa at RG is a whole other matter entirely.

      I know where you are coming from and your bias is showing. But I had a sense that Thiem might get Rafa this time. I am far more concerned with what will happen at RG.

      I remember this same garbage being thrown around when Novak beat Rafa in warm up tournaments, only to lose to Rafa at RG. He finally beat Rafa in 2015, his annus horribilis.

      Don’t get too carried away with yourself.

      • How am I getting carried away with myself? If you read my main comment on the match, I explicitly said that I’m not sure how much one should read into Thiem’s victory, and that Nadal is still obviously the favourite for RG. So please tell me what I said that was getting carried away.

          • From the person who has called Joe a hypocrite and gone after him for being a Zoe’s fan!

            I think Joe can hold his own and isn’t going anywhere! I merely wanted to set the record straight as one who wasn’t looking ahead to the next opponent or taking Thiem for granted.

            • Gone after Joe for being a Fed fan or should I use the more popular term Fedfawn!

              Sorry for the garbled auto correct!

  5. I’m trying to console myself Rafa needs a break to rest before RG

    #clutching at straws 🙁

    • Well, this will serve at a wake up call for Rafa, don’t wait for so long before changing things up.

      Again I want to say it, Rafa, please stop staying back to rally all days. You have to come to terms that you at 30 can no longer outhit these younger guys who hit so hard all day. Please use your guile, your varieties, your court craft to win your matches.

    • Well at least you are being honest. Maybe it was too much to hope for Rafa to run the table.

      But I think it’s not a good thing to give Thiem a straight sets win before RG. He will only get more confident now.

      Now they are talking up Thiem’s chances for RG. Taking some pressure off Rafa.

    • Anyway, we Rafa fans needed a break from watching Rafa putting himself in danger of fatigue or injury through slugfests before RG!

  6. This is good for Rafa. Should have skipped Rome as I had predicted earlier. Cant win 4 events in 5 weeks . I mean noone can win so much in so less time especially on a surface like clay. Rafa had never done it.

  7. Rest well Rafa. Congrats Thiem but Thiem will run out of steam going into his next match. Delpo or Djoko won’t be easy.

  8. Breznick was in Thiem’s box today. Looking inscrutable as usual. He must be feeling very satisfied to see Dominic doing so well. Like Shireling I hope he goes all the way now

  9. I am actually quite happy Rafa lost. He looked tired to me. The pressure of being such a red hot favorite is lessened!!! Yeh!!!
    I am not worried about RG. No one can beat him there unless he is injured. Even when injured in 2014, he somehow beat Nole.
    So on to RG.
    I can now watch the rest of the Rome tournament totally relaxed. Wonderful!!!

    • Even though I am happy, I am sure Rafa is not. I think he wanted to win this title as well but then he should have skipped Barcelona. Anyway, he and Uncle T will work out something for Thiem. Thiem will probably be in Rafa’s Quarter and Nole in Rafa’s half.
      But I am really not worried about Thiem. Only Nole.

      • Mary MAY (AT 4:57 PM) says: “…he should have skipped Barcelona.”

        The Barcelona-500 is Rafa’s home tournament. He has been a member of the Real Club de Tenis de Barcelona since he was 11 years old. 🙂

        • augusta,

          I agree with you about Barcelona! It means a lot to Rafa and he should play where he wants to play!

      • I’m not worried about them both. I think Thiem may end up in the other half away from Rafa; and Rafa in Djoko’s half of the draw. They certainly want to see Rafa playing Djoko in the SF followed by a likely Rafa vs Thiem final. I think that will help viewership of the tournament.

        It’s no point having Rafa fighting hard in the QF vs Thiem and Djoko in SF, and then has a anticlimatic final, with or without Rafa in it. I mean who’s going to light up the other half of the draw? Murray? Stan? I doubt Zverev or Kyrgios or Goffin would survive the draw and plays wonderfully in the final.

        Thiem has reached the SF at FO last year, so in all possibilities, he may make his next step by reaching the final, now that Stan, the older version of Thiem, seems to be in poor form; Murray too.

        • That’s what happened in 2013 to favor Fed. All the heavyweights in Rafa’s half. Ultimately it was Ferrer who came to the final from Fed’s side. This time Fed is not there but Rafa is a threat to Fed’s slam count so I expect Rafa to have a tough draw.

          • Total slam count is kinda overrated anyway, imo… When it comes to the Big 3, I find it just as amazing how they all have had unprecedented consistency with getting to the business end of each of the four majors. That’s what I think separates them from other modern greats, such as Sampras (who I personally consider to be on the 5-man Mount Rushmore of men’s tennis along with Big 3 and Laver). As amazing and dominant as Sampras was, he never even reached the final of Roland Garros and only even made it past the QF once. Obviously we should take into account that the game style has changed significantly since Sampras played, and the courts have become more homogenized. However, I was still always amazed by how a guy who was so incredibly dominant on the other surfaces only made one semifinal at RG. I’m pretty sure that when Sampras first retired, if you had told people that within the next 15 years there would be THREE guys who not will have won all four majors but also made it to the final of all four majors numerous times, they probably wouldn’t have believed you haha! So, yeah, sometimes I wish that the total number of majors a player has won wasn’t seen so much as the only way to measure a player’s greatness… I know this irrelevant to the topic of your comment, Mary, but you inspired me to say this, so thank you. 🙂

            • I don’t want people to get the wrong idea- I think total slam count is a hugely important factor in measuring greatness, I just don’t believe it’s the end-all, be-all… We see it in other sports, too. “______ has won ______ rings. Therefore they are the GOAT.” I say when making an argument for someone being an all-time great, it’s so much more interesting to discuss the other factors ALONG WITH the championships.

            • Kevin, I think it’s tougher in Sampras era to win all four slams. The court surfaces were more varied. I think the clay surface was very slow back then. I think Sampras with his serve and his speed would be able to do better on clay today. The clay surfaces seemed to be quicker in recent years. You just have to watch guys like Isner and Raonic, who could serve their way through the draw to reach the later rounds on clay.

              I think what Sampras achieved back then were tougher to do than what Fedal and Djoko achieved now. Fedal plus Djoko could basically play the same way on any surface and still win, don’t need to change their game when moving from one surface to another.

            • The focus on slams also disadvantages the great players of the 70s and 80s, who often didn’t play the Australian and/or the French. Had they done so, their slam count would surely be higher. If I remember correctly, Connors only played the Australian twice, and never played the FO in his prime.

      • He was right pissed off. He was gracious when he shook hands with Thiem but then he stomped off the court without stopping to sign autographs – something I’ve never seen him do before.

        • I thought Rafa was right posted off at points in the match. After one shot missed, he seemed to be talking to himself quite a bit and he was not happy! I couldn’t hear him, but if my Spanish was decent I bet there were some choice words coming out.

          Rafa doesn’t like to lose and wouldn’t be happy with the way he played. I thought this match would be trouble because There run pushed Rafa hard in the Madrid final. He is very determined and ambitious and hungry.

          If it had to come, then I guess it’s best it came now. Slugging it out with Thiem to grInd out a three set win and then possibly having to face Novak tomorrow, made me concerned. No way would I want a tired Rafa to lose to Novak before RG!

          So I am resigned to this as a bad day at the office for Rafa, with Thiem playing very well and being aggressive and not letting up.

          • NNY, if Rafa played like the way he played against Sock, I’ve no doubt he would beat Thiem again. Rafa was sharp during that Sock match. I do feel the windy conditions did play a part in today’s match. He lost his serve in his first service game and from then it’s catching up to do all the way.

            I mean how often you see Rafa mishitting or shanking so often in a match? Only that Foggy match at Madrid was worse, but at that time Rafa was still physically up to the task to fight back with the Madrid crowd cheering him on.

            He may be running on fume here so to speak, and the heavier and windy conditions didn’t do him any favor. Thiem hit so hard and served so well that the wind didn’t bother him (it’s like RG2010 where Sod hit Fed off the court because of the heavy conditions that favored the big hitter; the FO2012 third set of the final came to mind too).

            I feel Rafa is not doing well under windy conditions nowadays, gone are the days when Rafa could adapt so well to windy conditions. First thing to go was his serve, he couldn’t get the first serve right so often; his FH too tend to misfire. Perhaps he’s not moving his legs as well as when during his heydays; not moving them well enough in small adjusting steps.

            • I have already commented about his footwork. It is not as good as before, resulting in more errors on his FH. Probably due to drop in speed even though microscopic and not apparent to the naked eye. At the stratospheric level at which Rafa plays, a drop of even a millionth could make a difference.He has to improve his anticipation or control the game through strategic play so as to force the opponent to hit a more predictable shot in the anticipated direction. Rafa and Uncle T have good tennis brains so I think they are working on it.

        • He’s possibly pissed with the crowd there. I do notice that the Italian crowd isn’t too supportive of Rafa. I think they prefers Djoko there over Rafa. Italians don’t like the Spaniards? Or it’s only Rafa among the Spaniards?

          • Who cares? When Rafa is on a winning spree, no one can stop him. He was not the crowd’s darling at RG and they were rooting against him when Soderling beat him. I think that really hurt him for he was their champion 4 times over. But then next year he started his 5 in a row . Today I am told he is the hero of the younger generation in France and even RG is in awe of him. A legend like no other!!!!! Fedfawns may whistle and jeer but nothing is going to change the fact that on clay there is no one like Rafa. And probably there never will be.

  10. Actually all my predictions for today so far have been wrong. If Nole loses to Delpo, I will have a perfect score!!! 100% wrong!!!!!

    • Me too! I was wrong about Cilic, Raonic, Rafa. They all lost when I predicted that they would win! I hope Delpo wins his match, that will make it 4 for 4 for me, ie 100% wrong!

    • Kevin,

      I actually think you make some excellent points! I get where you are coming from, because each great player brings his own unique qualities and achievements to the sport.

      Thank you for remembering Rod Laver and including him on your list. I grew up watching him and he was my idol!

  11. Rafa’s performance was way below his usual on clay this year and more like Miami 2017 thus Thiem’s game looked so great…This will be a big booster for Nole who avoided another loss to Rafa…

    One thing I said at the start of this tournament was that I was not sure how much longer Rafa would be able to sustain the high level of play given that he is 31 in about 15 days…but I also said that one should not expect these youngsters to lose early due to fatigue and overplay because they are so physically fit and well prepared…both Zverev and Thiem proved me right..they simply refuse to surrender…good for them and good for tennis!

    There are certainly positives for Rafa losing here. He is tired both physically and mentally and if his body is wasted he gets more susceptible to injuries…good to avoid such risk..

    I would have loved Rafa to get to no 3 but it wasn’t meant to be just yet…At least he avoids another slug fest with Novak…

    Rafa did great this clay season. He needs to rest and focus on RG! It’s all that matters!

    Vamos Rafa!

    • Natashao (AT 4:43 PM),

      As for seedings at Roland Garros, there is no difference whether a player is ranked No.3 or 4.

      • @augusta,
        I know, just wanted him to climb to No 3! He so deserves it!
        But it will come soon…


    • Well Nats, Rafa at 30 has already played 18 matches on clay non stop. Compared to him, Zverev and Thiem played fewer matches so far. Thiem esp, after so many three setters and saving MPs, it’s bound to catch up with him. He’s hitting so hard too thus using up so much energy, may not be good for his chances at the FO. I doubt he can blow Rafa off the court there at the FO, for its at the FO that Rafa plays his best tennis, you hardly see his shanking, misfiring, double faulting etc. there. Rafa is also way more aggressive there at the FO.

      I won’t be surprised Thiem would lose in his next match. I won’t be surprised too if it’s a Delpo vs Isner final!

      • Yeah, but both Thiem and Zverev played rather physically demanding matches in Rome. They are still surviving though… I thought if Rafa was able to win the second set he would have won the match. I also don’t think Thiem can harm Rafa at RG if Rafa is healthy and playing at his Madrid level. Today Rafa’s game was off…

        He just needs some time at the sea… ?

  12. I thought Thiem sort of took the match out of his racket. He started the points aggressively and therefore in control on return and serve.

    • Yeah Benny, but Rafa served poorly in the first game to lose his serve. I think Thiem was smart and chose to receive, letting Rafa served first, knowing it’s tricky conditions out there (windy).

      Thiem was aggressive no doubt but Rafa was still able to fight back to win four games in the first set. As usual, Rafa always found his way back into the match, it’s just that his serve was subpar today, and Thiem was serving and hitting well, so Rafa couldn’t turn things around this time.

    • Yup, we did not want Rafa to play Rome. Watching him in slugfests before RG is taxing on my nerves. Now I can relax. Vamos Rafa, go get La Decima! Decimate the field!!!!!

  13. Thiem played inspired tennis like all they all do against rafa and rafa could not respond today. A guy who saved mps and got a win in the third set tb totally outplayed rafa today. Hope this just helps rafa focus more

  14. I’m wondering WHY Ricky thinks this!

    Ricky Dimon‏ @Dimonator 2h2 hours ago

    i already know Nadal’s 25-32 seed (3rd round) at the French Open will be Del Potro and his 5-8 seed (quarterfinals) will be Thiem



    • I also think the same. Anyone who plays well will be stacked into Rafa’s Quarter. But as vr said, it doesn’t matter at RG but could be critical at Wimbly. All the big hitters would be safely kept away from Fed and would probably be pushed into Rafa’s Quarter. In the olden days, the big hitters were generally reserved for Muzz who was kind of a step child. But now that he is an icon for the British, Wimbly will probably treat him better though I am sure their loyalty to Fed is more.

  15. Carole Bouchard‏ @carole_bouchard

    Also the stadium seems to be rooting for Thiem in this match…

  16. RT: “Tomorrow, I’ll be in Majorca fishing or playing golf”,Nadal who says Thiem was great whereas he didn’t feel at best after all those matches

  17. It is a good thing this happened at Rome so Rafa has time to work out counter moves without taking risks. Unlike young players out to prove themselves, Rafa has to play to win, which means being cautious or playing as per high percentage tennis strategy. When he is faced with something unexpected, he goes to his default mode-behind the baseline. Most times, it works. But sometimes it does not. Like Roger said when Nole unleashed that go for broke shot to save matchpoint in 2010 and 2011, that was not what they had been taught to do. Now that Fed is old, he played in that go for broke style in the 5th set of AO and won the trophy.

    • The one positive that I am taking out of this loss is that Rafa won’t have to kill him self to win Rome. I have been concerned about him playing too much and not having enough left for RG. Now he can have some well earned rest and down time before RG. It sounds like he needs it.

      I am never happy when Rafa loses. I don’t like seeing him give Thiem a win right before RG. But I think Rafa may be tired now and things happen for a reason. Today he didn’t have his best against a young and determined opponent.

      I never think it’s wonderful for Rafa to lose, but I have faith that he will be rested and ready for RG. That is the one that matters most.

      Rafa gave it his best, but he’s done more than enough to prepare for RG.

      Happy fishing Rafa!

  18. Rafa needs to conserve his energy to get ready for the FO. He’s not that young anymore. I think he surprised himself playing so well so far this season. He has already played 42 matches so far, that’s a lot of matches in five months!

    He needs to be fresh for the FO in order to play go for broke tennis when needed without missing, unlike his AO this year.

    • Luckystar (AT 5:34 PM),

      I don’t think Rafa is surprised that he is playing well. He has said several times that he hasn’t had physical problems since the off-season and it has allowed him to practice normally.
      I remember that at the beginning of this season he asked people to give him time (3 months or so) before evaluating his level.

  19. I’m certainly not happy with Rafa’s play today. But could it be that his motivation was really low? If he had won this match he would’ve had the prospect of having to slug it out with either Novak or Delpo. He can’t have looked forward to such a potentially gruelling encounter and the prospect of potentially another match in the final. I certainly didn’t.
    I’m not accusing Rafa of tanking deliberately. But a low motivation affects the game of a player subconsciously and it might’ve shown. He got his important win against Novak in Madrid. Why risk the loss of this psychological edge? Strategically a loss against Thiem is probably preferable. Let the youngster slug it out with Novak or Delpo 🙂
    I might be overthinking this. Rafa might just have had a bad day at the office. But if that’s the case he chose the right day and the right opponent 😉

    • Rafa just had a bad day at the office, coupled that with an on fire opponent all out to beat him.

      I think Thiem will be spent after this match, and may be beaten in the next round. He saved MPs vs Querry in three sets; I also doubt Djoko and Delpo are as weary as Rafa, they haven’t played that many matches this year, so may put up better fights vs Thiem. If it’s Delpo in the next round, it’ll be interesting, as Delpo won’t allow Thiem to blow him off the court, he being a power hitter himself. Thiem won’t have it his own way.

      • Well, IMO opinion Rafa timed his bad day at the office nicely 😉 Hopefully it was his one and only lapse during the clay season.
        I’m actually looking forward to Thiem’s semifinal tomorrow. Will be interesting how he will sell himself against Novak or Delpo. I also suspect that he’s spent by now, but who knows?
        I also believe that the winner of that semi will be most likely the overall winner.

        • I think Djoko may again win at Rome. He’s already a set up before the rain delay. They have to postpone the match till tomorrow. So the SF still on Sat? Then that’s not fair to the winner of this postponed QF; so Thiem will have an edge in the SF but I’m not sure he can beat Djoko in the SF.

    • Totally agree. I don’t know about Rafa but I was feeling tired already thinking of the slugfests ahead.

      • I was already tired when I thought about the next matches, lol! I’m never exactly happy when Rafa loses, but right now I’m totally content with the outcome. Also,Thiem was so gritty in the last few tourneys, and if he hadn’t run into Rafa he might’ve snatched two trophies already. So, I feel good about him winning.

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