Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic ATP Rome tennis Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Nadal and Djokovic meet for a record 51st time in Rome blockbuster

Leye Aduloju in ATP 19 May 2018
  • Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic is live from Rome on Saturday, 19 May from 3:00pm local time/ 2:00pm BST
  • Djokovic leads 26-24 on head-to-head
  • Watch and bet on tennis live from Rome at bet365 > live streaming > tennis (geo-restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify) 
Rafael Nadal. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Fasten your seat belts, here we go again! For the 51st time in their careers, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic go head-to-head on Saturday as they battle for a spot in the Rome final.

Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic ATP Internazionali BNL d'Italia tennis is live from Rome on Saturday, 19 May from 3:00pm local time/ 2:00pm BST
Watch and bet on tennis live from Rome at bet365 > live streaming > tennis (geo-restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify)  

It’s the first meeting between Nadal and Djokovic since last year’s Madrid Masters, when Nadal snapped a seven-match losing streak against the Serbian. Both men came from behind to record three-set victories in Rome on Friday, with Nadal overcoming Fabio Fognini, and Djokovic taking out Kei Nishikori in one of the matches of the season.


After a turbulent year, Djokovic appears to have finally found some form in Rome, easing past Alexandr Dolgopolov, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Albert Ramos-Vinolas to reach his first quarter final of the season. However, it is his victory over Nishikori that would be the most satisfying. Nishikori dominated the opening exchanges of the match, taking the ball early and pushing Djokovic back with aggressive hitting off both wings. The Japanese broke twice on his way to taking the set after just 37 minutes. Djokovic did not play badly in that first set, but he simply had no answers an opponent who was operating at an extremely high level.

Knowing that he had to change something to halt the relentless Nishikori tide, the former world number one stepped up the aggression in the second set. This was Djokovic at his very best, morphing into an impenetrable backboard on the baseline, ruthlessly punishing second serves, and spreading his backhand all over the court with pace, depth and precision. The forehand wasn’t left out of the party, with the twelve-time Grand Slam champion often pulling Nishikori deep and wide with spin and angle. Nishikori didn’t help himself by missing too many first serves, but even his first offerings weren’t spared by a fired-up Djokovic, who won over 50% of Nishikori’s first serve points. The Serbian quickly established a 4-0 lead in the second set, and while Nishikori wrestled one of the breaks back, Djokovic simply stepped on the gas again, winning the next two games to take the set and force a decider. And what a final set it was! With both men playing well at the same time, there was very little to separate the two. The quality of the match rose astronomically, with brutal exchanges often punctuated by outrageous winners. There was hardly any room for either player to breathe, as anything remotely short was punished. Ultimately, it was Djokovic’s greater security on serve, and the greater control and accuracy of his hitting that proved pivotal in the outcome of this one. 

"It means a lot to me to be able to play [in the] semi-finals of a tournament again," said Djokovic. "This is what I was looking forward to. This is what I was hoping to achieve."  
"I'm really happy that I mentally stayed strong," continued Djokovic. "In the ending of the third set I really fought and showed some resilience. This victory means a lot to me on different levels, mostly mental."

A tough year had begun with a fourth-round loss to Hyeon Chung at the Australian Open, after which he underwent minor surgery on a lingering elbow problem that had forced him to miss the second half of the previous season. 


Novak Djokovic. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
The Serbian returned to action at Indian Wells, which in hindsight, was perhaps too soon after surgery. He lost opening matches in three of his next four tournaments- Indian Wells, Miami and Barcelona, reached the third round in Monte Carlo, and lost o Kyle Edmund in the second round in Madrid, raising genuine concerns over whether the great Serbian would ever regain the form that made him almost untouchable at the top the sport. Djokovic has provided answers in Rome, particularly with that victory over Nishikori. He was pushed against the ropes, but he responded like the champion that he is.

If he plays like that against Nadal on Saturday, he’s got to have a chance against the King of Clay.


Nadal was also pushed in his own quarter final against Fabio Fognini earlier in the day. Fognini was having a superb week, claiming the big scalp of Dominic Thiem on his way to a first quarter final in Rome. He also had an interesting record against Nadal, boasting three victories in 13 matches against the Spaniard, including two on clay. Keen to stamp his authority on the match early on, Nadal opened up a 4-1 lead on Friday, but Fognini refused to give in. He got the break back with a fantastic forehand return winner, and as he continued to pull of one flashy shot after the other, Nadal lost his way. A wild forehand error, followed by another off the backhand wing handed Fognini another break and the chance to serve for the match, and fittingly, the Italian closed out the set after another Nadal backhand error. Astonishingly, Fognini had won five games in a row from 4-1 down!


Nadal was obviously never going to dwell too much on that set- and he came out firing in the second set, breaking early for the 2-0 lead. Having got that cushion, he put his foot down, and ran away with it, winning ten out of the next 13 games. In the end, Fognini could not just live with Nadal in the second and third sets, as the Spaniard shifted through the gears. It was a good test for Nadal, who had had most things go his way in this clay-court season. He only recently lost a 21-match, 50-set winning streak, which ran from last year’s French Open to last week’s Madrid Open. Returning from a two-month break following a thigh injury sustained at the Australian Open, Nadal romped to eleventh titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, before losing that winning streak in Madrid following an inspired performance by Dominic Thiem. Undeterred, Nadal was quickly into his strides in Rome, dropping just one game in his opening match against Damir Dzumhur. He was too good for Denis Shapovalov in the third round before battling past Fognini in the quarter finals to snap a run of three straight quarter final defeats in Rome.

Nadal, who is seeking a record eighth title at the Foro Italico, hasn’t won the title in 2013, and is into his first semi-final since 2014.

And what a semi-final we have in prospect.

Prior to Nadal beating Djokovic in Madrid last year, the Serbian had won seven straight matches against Nadal, all in straight sets, including three on clay. It was the second such streak Djokovic had had against Nadal, as he won seven in a row as well between Indian Wells 2011 and Australian Open 2012. Overall, the Serbian leads Nadal 26-24 on head-to-head. Djokovic clearly has the game to beat Nadal on any surface- it’s a question of whether he is playing well enough to execute. He certainly played well; and executed against Nishikori on Friday.

I think he will push Nadal hard on Friday, but this match may have come too soon in his apparent return to form. The King of Clay should do just enough to hold off the Serbian.

Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic is live from Rome on Saturday, 19 May from 3:00pm local time/ 2:00pm BST
Watch and bet on the match live at bet365 > live streaming > Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic (geo-restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify)



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Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic ATP Rome tennis Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Nadal and Djokovic meet for a record 51st time in Rome blockbuster

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic meet in the semi-finals of the Rome Masters. Who will win the 51st meeting between the two greats? Read our preview, predictions and stream the match live online.

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