ATP Rome final preview: Novak Djokovic vs Alexander Zverev

The world number two Novak Djokovic has undergone his "shock therapy" phase, and he is rediscovering his best form. The former world number one started 2017 on fire by winning the title in Doha against world number one Andy Murray in an impressive 250 final level final. The tennis world must have thought that the top two players in the world, would compete in the Australian Open final for the fifth time.

However, Djokovic lost his Australian Open title to Denis Istomin the second round. The second seed also surrendered his Indian Wells title in the fourth round losing to Nick Kyrgios. He also relinquished his Miami Open title with an elbow injury, and Rafael Nadal got the better of him in his second ATP World Tour semifinal of the year in Madrid last week. Nonetheless, the second seed showed his quality in the second set of his semifinal clash with Nadal. The Serb has brought his form with him from the Caja Magica to the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, where he has won the title on four occasions.

Djokovic will be competing in his 97th ATP World Tour final and his 44th Masters 1000 final. It will also be the former world number one's 23rd clay-court final, winning 13 titles on the red dirt, and losing nine finals in the process. Standing in Djokovic's way of completing more history is 16th seed Alexander Zverev, who is participating in his first Masters 1000 final. The 20-year-old is competing in his third final of the year, and sixth career final. Zverev is unbeaten in his last three finals, and he has been in scintillating form in 2017. The ATP Next Gen Star is currently set to rise to a career-high ranking of 14, and if he beats Djokovic, he will crack into the top ten for the first time.

Djokovic's path to the final

The four-time Internazionali BNL d'Italia champion has not dropped a set all week at the Foro Italico. The second seed began his quest for a record 31st Masters 1000 title against Aljaz Bedene, after receiving a bye in the first round. The first set was closely contested but the Serb dispatched the British qualifier, 7-6 (2), 6-2. The third round saw Djokovic see off Roberto Bautista Agut in a close two set match, 6-4, 6-4 to reach his 11th consecutive quarterfinal in the Eternal City. However, the 12-time Grand Slam champion's quarterfinal clash with Juan Martin del Potro lasted over two days as rain intervened. Nevertheless, the former world number one was in vintage form, winning the first set 6-1 on Friday, and trailed 1-2 at the end of the evening.

He finished the match on Saturday, 6-1, 6-4 to book his place in the semifinals for the eighth time in Rome. The Serb was 7-0 in semifinals in Rome, and he continued that record with the thrashing of the in-form eighth seed Dominic Thiem, 6-1, 6-0 in under an hour. It was a demolition job and the four-time champion has reasserted himself as one of the favourites for the French Open.

The four-time champion has rediscovered his form at the right time (Photo by Michael Steele / Getty)
The four-time champion has rediscovered his form at the right time (Photo by Michael Steele / Getty)

Zverev's path to the final

The 16th seed has carried on where he left off after winning the clay court title in Munich and advancing to the quarterfinals in the Spanish capital, where Pablo Cuevas denied him a chance of reaching his first Masters 1000 semifinal. The German number one defeated former top ten player Kevin Anderson in three sets, and he dispatched Djokovic's compatriot Viktor Troicki, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round. Zverev advanced to his third Masters 1000 quarterfinal of the year when he defeated Murray's conqueror Fabio Fognini, 6-3, 6-3. Zverev's awe-inspiring form continued into his quarterfinal clash with fifth seed Milos Raonic. The first set was close with an inevitable tiebreak but the lanky German raced through the second set, sending last year's Wimbledon runner-up packing, 7-6 (4), 6-1 advancing to his first Masters 1000 semifinal.

In the semifinals, Zverev was up against the unseeded American John Isner, who was no stranger to reaching the latter stages of Masters 1000 events. Isner has reached three Masters 1000 finals losing to members of the Big Four in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in all of them. Nonetheless, Zverev showed his maturity despite dropping the middle set to clinch the victory, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-1, and advance to the biggest final of his career.

The German will have to serve well to have any chance of beating Djokovic (Photo by Giuseppi Bellini / Getty)
The German will have to serve well to have any chance of beating Djokovic (Photo by Giuseppi Bellini / Getty)

Who wins the title?

The former world number one is finally back to his old self, which means bad news for the tennis world. Nevertheless, players like Kyrigos and David Goffin took advantage of Djokovic, who was still playing good tennis but was struggling to find results. However, Djokovic's run to the final in Rome for the eighth time has shown that he still has the hunger in his belly.

If Djokovic could replicate his performances against del Potro and Thiem, neutralising the former's serve and extending the rallies, he should have no problems in doing the same to Zverev. This is the third consecutive Masters 1000 event on clay with a new finalist. Albert Ramos Vinolas and Thiem respectively both fell to Nadal in Monte Carlo and Madrid, whilst Zverev will be hoping to break that trend.

The German will simply have to serve well against Djokovic like Kyrgios did to the Serb in Acapulco and Indian Wells, virtually blowing him off the court. On the other hand, the world number 17 has a good movement for his height, and his forehand is a deadly weapon once it is firing. The 16th seed also doesn't hesitate to come forward to the net, to finish points off. Djokovic will make Zverev play the extra ball, and even though, the Serb had played one and a half matches on Saturday, he will be the fresher out of the two players, and Zverev's legs may be feeling weary in the final.

This will be the first meeting between Djokovic and Zverev, and it should be a thriller encounter. However, with the experience and form that the former world number one is showing. He should dispatch Zverev fairly comfortably. Should the Serb win the title, he will win a record 31st Masters 1000 title, and fifth at the Foro Italico. The final will take place on Campo Centrale at not before 4pm local time.

Prediction: Djokovic in straight sets.