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

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

  1. Happy to see this loss..A loss before RG was must..he has never won all 4 tourneys before RG and won RG

    There is no point winning all 4 before RG and then crapping out there

    And regarding no 3 Rafa is defending only 2nd round points last year at RG..he can only gain and how it he wins it

  2. I hope Thiem on the other side but I doubt that

    Anyways if Rafa has to win he will beating whoever in front of him

  3. What’s up with Novak vs Delpo? Did Novak withdraw?? The ATP site lists Delpo as the winner of the match. Or is there a software glitch?

    • Must’ve been an incredible mistake. They started playing now, although very late. I wonder what has been going on…

    • They have just suspended play for the Novak/Delpo match due to rain and lightning.

      Not good for whoever wins this match.

  4. Nole won the first set 6-1 against Delpo! Whew, I hope Nole will postpone his further recovery from slump till after RG. Maybe we should invite Deepika to RG?

    • I read on the ATP site that the Novak/Delpo match was suspended for the night. They will have to come out in Saturday to finish the match and then the winner will play Thiem in the semis that night.

      This could be a big advantage for Thiem.

  5. I checked other tennis blogs and looks like everyone is happy that Rafa lost. Fans of Fed, Nole, Muzz and Rafa. So I guess this was a famous defeat and most popular!!! Ha ha. If Thiem wins the title he is the real deal and a threat at RG. But I suspect, he will lose in the next round.

  6. A great victory for Thiem, and in general a pretty high quality match. Rafa not at his best, but he did not play badly. Thiem played smart tennis, tried to stay forward. His sharply angled shots are the right play to try when your opponent is far back from the baseline. He served well and returned great. Basically, he overpowered Nadal, and everyone knows that Rafa is most vulnerable against big hitters (pretty much everyone is when a big hitter is on).

    Not sure how much to take away from this going forward. Thiem has the game to beat Nadal on clay, as do a few others, but we already knew that and it doesn’t mean it’s likely. This is about as well as Thiem can play and it would be very impressive (and surprising) to see him repeat in in the late stages of a slam against one of the big names. But he might.

    A bigger question is how much Rafa will have left in the tank, at nearly 31, for RG, after playing all four lead ups. He’s still the favourite, obviously, but Thiem is there with Novak and Stan in the second group.

    • Not to worry, Rafa knows his priority is the FO. Rafa, unlike Thiem, would not have to slug it out in the early rounds at the FO. Rafa usually get by his early rounds quickly because he would conserve his energy till the later rounds.

      Thiem, OTOH, isn’t all conquering type of player and has to slug it out in the earlier rounds; e.g. vs Dimi at Madrid, against Querry here, lost to Goffin at MC in three sets. Chances are he will slug his way through the draw at the FO; may even lose before the QF or SF stage. Thiem is more a power hitter, not unlike Stan; he lacks the varieties, the soft hands of the big four. He still has some way to go before he could reach Stan’s level of play at FO2015.

      • Agree he wasn’t playing like Stan in 2015; not sure who has. But I think Stan has decent touch as well. He’s played a fair amount of doubles and has a nice volley. He doesn’t really have a drop shot, though.

        • Who has? Soderling in 2009 and 2010 only to lose to eventual winners Fed and Rafa respectively. Fed and Rafa played better in their respective finals than the Djoko of 2015 final. Remember, Sod did beat Rafa along the way to his 2009 final, and beat Fed along the way to his 2010 final.

          • Sorry, Lucky, but we’re going to disagree again. Stan in the late stages of RG in 2015 played just about unbeatable tennis. Novak played very well, but there wasn’t much he could do, and I think the same would have been true of Rafa. Stan played even better in the QF against Roger, imo, who played terrific but still got beat in straights if I remember.

            This has nothing to do with Rafa or Federer. It’s just that the best big players have the ability to overpower all others when they’re on their game, regardless of surface. Stan isn’t physically big, but plays huge when he’s on. Thiem isn’t big, but was basically red-lining it most of the match today. OTOH, someone like Cilic or del Potro, when they’re totally in the zone, can beat just about anyone. I put Soderling in the same category, though he couldn’t bring it in the RG final. Again, it’s not likely for these big guys to win, because they’re all a lot less consistent than the big four. But on a given day, they all have the capability.

            • Joe, you’re wrong to say that Stan is big but Thiem is not. Thiem is bigger and taller than Stan, and he trained hard to give him the physical power he has now. His BH now can be as solid as Stan’s imo, but perhaps still not as consistent compared to Stan at his best.

              Again I’ve to disagree about Stan in 2015, I’m also sure that if you pitch Stan of 2015 vs Rafa of 2008 FO, Rafa would win hands down. Don’t compare Djoko of 2015 FO to any of Rafa during 2007-2010 FO( excluding 2009). Djoko was no where near the Rafa of pre 2011 version. Fedal during their heydays > Djoko during his heydays, on clay imo.

              It’s easy for you to look at attacking players like Stan, and assumed that he would beat anyone on his day; it’s not the first time a player played like that, and on clay vs Rafa, but Rafa still beat them during his heydays(e.g. Gonzo; Sod in 2010 for examples); its not just about physical power, but also the ability to overcome such power with strategies and exploiting the weaknesses of such power players.

              Stan is the nemesis for Djoko at the slams, but he’s not so for Rafa or Fed, because Fedal have their ways of overcoming raw power. Cilic and Delpo, OTOH, aren’t about raw power, but precision of their serves and also their shots when in the zone. Also, it’s surface dependent – they’re particularly good on quicker surfaces, taking away reaction time from opponents.

            • Also, just because Stan beat Fed and Djoko in 2015 doesn’t mean he could beat a Rafa at his best, don’t equate them to Rafa on clay! The Rafa of 2013 was good enough to handle Stan imo, as he had proven time and again!

    • And Joe, Rafa’s records on clay speaks for itself. No matter how the other players look ( like they’re going to beat him), they still fail 92% of the time!

      Don’t forget, Rafa is a counterpuncher, and very often he has to think of ways to counter his opponents, so, it appears that his opponents are having the upper hands until Rafa counter attacks; and that’s why they look like they can have the game to beat him on clay but they fail.

  7. Nole will beat Delpo, it was never in doubt…I watched Delpo play Nishi and he was ‘best among the worst’…neither one would have had a chance against Nole who is clearly picking up the pace…

    And Thiem will probably fade away to serve it on the plate for Nole..’until one gets it bad, the other one doesn’t get it good’…that’s how Rafa’s loss today was a big favor to Nole…

    Nole will most likely win the title and end up being made favorite for RG title by many…

    • If Djoko gets by Delpo, he’ll beat Thiem to reach the final. I think he’ll win the title at Rome, I doubt Zverev or Isner could stop him. Djoko may be playing at 60 or 70% of his capacity but he could slug his way through the draw and wins, as long as there’s no Rafa there.

      Doesn’t matter they consider Djoko one of the fav at RG, better for Rafa as the pressure won’t be totally on him there. Let Thiem and Djoko share the burden.

  8. BTW whoever Rafa lost to in qtrs at Rome last 2 years has won RG

    Stan in 15 and Nole in 16

    Just saying 🙂

    If Rafa doesn’t win I am happy for Thiem to win

    • Sanju, those two years what had Rafa done on clay? Rafa won MC and Barcelona in 2016 no doubt but he had to withdraw after R2 at FO due to wrist injury. It’s not like he was losing to Djoko at the FO in 2016, or that he lost to Stan the eventual winner of the FO title.

      • You really are that confident that Rafa would have beaten Djokovic at RG last year? Djokovic was playing a million times better at this time last year than he was the other day when Rafa beat him, and you’ve said yourself that Rafa is playing better now than he was last year. I understand wanting to believe in your guy, but you make it sound like it was written in stone that Rafa would have beaten him last year. Of course Rafa had a good shot at it, but I would think it was more 60/40 in Novak’s favor, especially since he had beaten Rafa just a couple weeks before in two close sets. I would say at best it was 50/50, but what evidence was there that Rafa was ready to beat Novak in a best-of-five set match when he still couldn’t take a set off him? This year, its at least like 80/20 in Rafa’s favor. But last year?? C’mon Lucky…

        • Excuse me Kevin, when did I say that Rafa would beat Djoko last year at the FO? Care to read again? I said, ‘it’s not like he was losing to Djoko at the FO in 2016’ meaning they didn’t even play each other.

          Please, if you want to join in a conversation like this, please care to read properly and see what the conversation was all about. Sanju was relating Rafa losing in QF at Rome to whoever it is, that person would end up winning at RG. I said they winning at RG had nothing to do with Rafa losing at Rome to them,because both times -2015 and 2016 – the winner at RG didn’t have to beat Rafa to win the title!

  9. The Rome scheduling is crap 🙁
    We are now waiting for the Women’s match to be completed and they have only just started the 2nd set. The organisers are so inflexible: in spite of yesterday’s weather forecast for violent thunderstorms in the evening they stuck to their original scheduling and made no adjustment today for the men’s QF to be resumed as early as possible.

    The players are clearly low in the order of priorities

  10. Delpo looked gased, totally unfit! Not going to trouble Djoko. Djoko just goes on and on in the rallies, grinding down Delpo, until Delpo makes an error.

    Both of them look so beatable, I’m liking Thiem’s chances vs any of these two guys. I think Zverev vs Isner looks more promising.

  11. Don’t forget the FO. It’s called rigging BTW…

    RT @usopen: @AustralianOpen We have a feeling some Thiem-Nadal matches are in store for the future at the Australian Open and #USOpen. What a rivalry this is becoming!

  12. RT @carole_bouchard: Del Potro on Novak: “He played much better than me. He’s playing his best tennis again,which means something important for the tennis world”

  13. I just saw the Geneva draw, Stan is playing there, Kei also. It’s good that these top players are getting more match plays, that may make the FO more competitive.

    So far this clay season, it’s only Rafa from the old guards who is playing top class tennis, the rest of them are playing subpar tennis. Among the younger guys, it’s Thiem, then Zverev and Goffin who steal the lime light.

  14. Djokovic would be extremely disappointed. That makes everyone believe that he is beatable. Cant string 2 good matches . Zverev played very good. He and Theim are the ones to watch out for . Well for Djokovic, its strange , looked flat today , should have been fresh given that he has not played a lot this year.

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