Roman Feast Friday: Djokovic v Tsitsipas, Nadal v Zverev

The last time Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas met on a tennis court, the pair battled for almost four hours in a classic Roland Garros semi-final.

On that occasion, Djokovic dropped a two-set lead but regained his composure in the decider to reach his fifth Roland Garros final with a 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 win. The pair will be prepared for another intense clash on Friday, when they meet on Centre Court at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

“[Djokovic] has won here a lot of times. I am just expecting to go out there [and] give my best performance,” Tsitsipas said. “He can play on all surfaces. We played each other at Roland Garros. I see this as an opportunity for me to do something better this time. I hope to be able to play the same tennis that I have been playing so far and be a challenge for him.”

“Tomorrow is going to be a huge challenge for me,” Djokovic said. “I’m going to be ready for it. I’ve been practising well and feeling good. I’ll make sure I prepare myself well for the next match.”

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Tsitsipas enters his seventh ATP Head2Head contest with the 36-time ATP Masters 1000 champion (Djokovic leads 4-2) in peak form. The Greek has compiled a 12-2 record on clay this season, highlighted by his run to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters title (d. Rublev), and has claimed straight-sets wins against former World No. 3 Marin Cilic and Madrid runner-up Matteo Berrettini.

Djokovic has shown signs of his best level in Rome after starting his European clay swing with three wins from five matches across Monte-Carlo and Belgrade. The top seed, who is chasing his sixth title in the Italian capital, is competing in his 15th straight Rome quarter-final (2007-’21).

While the Top 5 stars will be both be focussed on securing a place in the final four in Rome, they may also have another Italian city on their minds: Turin. Tsitsipas is currently in pole position to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals, which will be held in the north Italian city for the first time in 2021. Djokovic, who is 610 points behind the Greek in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin, can leapfrog Tsitsipas in the Race if he lifts the trophy on Sunday.

Tsitsipas is aiming to become the first player to defeat Djokovic before the semi-finals in Rome since Tomas Berdych in 2013. The World No. 5 has already proven he can beat the six-time year-end World No. 1 on hard courts, with wins at the 2018 National Bank Open Presented by Rogers and the 2019 Rolex Shanghai Masters, but can he take the next step on the dirt?

Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal are set for a blockbuster rematch of last week’s Madrid quarter-final, with the German looking for a fourth consecutive victory over the nine-time Rome champion. Both men rallied from a set down Thursday, with Zverev ousting Kei Nishikori and Nadal saving two match points to deny Denis Shapovalov.

Zverev, a champion himself in 2017 at the Foro Italico, expects a different kind of battle than the one played at altitude in Madrid. “I think there’s a big difference [in the conditions]. I think there’s also a difference in our physical state. I think last week and now this match for me is going to come together tomorrow, but I’m going to give it my best,” Zverev told ATPTour.com. “At the end of the day, he’s one of the biggest competitors in the world and I’m going to try to be one myself tomorrow.”

Zverev, who has not dropped a set during his current three-match winning streak against the Spaniard, said he relished the challenge. “I enjoy playing against the best players in the world. That’s what you’re here for. That’s what you play tennis for,” Zverev said. “You want to be the best and you want to play against the best. It’s going to be a tough challenge, it’s going to be a tough battle, but I’m also looking forward to it.”

With the exception of last season when Monte-Carlo and Madrid were not played due to the pandemic, Nadal has never failed to reach the final of at least one of the three clay-court Masters 1000 finals since his breakout year in 2005. And 2015 was the only non-pandemic year in which he failed to win at least one of the three titles. The lefty won a 12th title in Barcelona last month and is looking this week to make Rome the fourth tournament he was won 10 or more times (also Roland Garros 13 and Monte-Carlo 11).

Andrey Rublev, who will become the new leader of the FedEx ATP Race To Turin should he win his first Masters 1000 title this week, will take a 1-0 ATP Head2Head record against Lorenzo Sonego into their quarter-final meeting, having defeated the Italian 6-4, 6-4 en route to the Vienna title last year. The Russian is tied with Race leader Stefanos Tsitsipas for most wins on Tour this year (29) and would meet the Greek in the semi-finals should both win Friday.

Sonego upset two-time Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem under lights Thursday night, in a three-hour 24-minute marathon. “It’s amazing, an unbelievably emotional moment for me because I’m in Rome, in my Italy with fans for two sets,” Sonego said in his on-court interview.

The 26-year-old is chasing his first Masters 1000 semi-final and has his eyes set on rising from No. 33 to top his career-best FedEx ATP Ranking of 28.

There is also a big opportunity for Reilly Opelka and Federico Delbonis to break new ground in Rome. The unseeded stars, who are both bidding to reach their first Masters 1000 semi-final. Opelka entered the tournament on a six-match losing streak, but he has claimed straight-sets wins against 2011 semi-finalist Richard Gasquet, #NextGenATP Italian Lorenzo Musetti and red-hot Russian Aslan Karatsev.

Delbonis has made it through a tough section of the draw to reach his first Masters 1000 quarter-final. The Argentine qualifier has already claimed five wins in Rome, including main draw victories against Karen Khachanov, 12th seed David Goffin and #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.

ORDER OF PLAY – FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2021
CENTER COURT start 10:00 am

WTA – P. Martic (CRO) vs J. Pegula (USA)

Not Before 12:00 noon
ATP – [6] A. Zverev (GER) vs [2] R. Nadal (ESP) 
ATP – [1] N. Djokovic (SRB) vs [5] S. Tsitsipas (GRE) 

Not Before 6.00PM
WTA – [15] I. Swiatek (POL) vs [5] E. Svitolina (UKR)
GRAND STAND ARENA start 10:00 am
ATP – [Q] F. Delbonis (ARG) vs R. Opelka (USA) 

Not Before 12.00PM
WTA – [9] K. Pliskova (CZE) vs J. Ostapenko (LAT)
WTA – [1] A. Barty (AUS) vs C. Gauff (USA)

Not Before 7:00 pm
ATP – L. Sonego (ITA) vs [7] A. Rublev (RUS) 

PIETRANGELI start 10:00 am
ATP – [Alt] M. Arevalo (ESA) / M. Middelkoop (NED) vs [7] W. Koolhof (NED) / J. Rojer (NED) 
ATP – A. Mannarino (FRA) / B. Paire (FRA) vs [2] N. Mektic (CRO) / M. Pavic (CRO) 
ATP – [8] K. Krawietz (GER) / H. Tecau (ROU) vs J. Peers (AUS) / M. Venus (NZL) 
ATP – [4] M. Granollers (ESP) / H. Zeballos (ARG) vs [5] R. Ram (USA) / J. Salisbury (GBR) 

COURT 1 start 10:00 am
WTA – [4] S. Aoyama (JPN) / E. Shibahara (JPN) vs [6] H. Chan (TPE) / L. Chan (TPE)
WTA – [OSE] K. Mladenovic (FRA) / M. Vondrousova (CZE) vs [2] B. Krejcikova (CZE) / K. Siniakova (CZE)
WTA – [WC] I. Begu (ROU) / S. Errani (ITA) vs [ND] E. Vesnina (RUS) / V. Zvonareva (RUS)

After Suitable Rest
WTA – [ALT] S. Fichman (CAN) / G. Olmos (MEX) vs C. Gauff (USA) / V. Kudermetova (RUS)