The clash everyone wanted to see in the final of the Italian Open will indeed take place as top-seeded Rafael Nadal will meet second-seeded Alexander Zverev in the final at the Foro Italico tomorrow. It will be a clash of the two favorites for the French Open as they have been the two standout clay court players this year.
Nadal leads the head-to-head 4-0, including two victories on clay. Zverev has twice come close to claiming victories over Nadal, which came during their two hard court meetings in Indian Wells and at the Australian Open. The German was painfully close to claiming what would've been the biggest win of his career at that point in 2016 at Indian Wells but missed a volley on match point.
During the 2017 Australian Open, Zverev held a two sets to one lead before falling in five. Their two clay court meetings have been anything like their hard court matchups though which the second seed hopes to change. Nadal has only dropped 11 total games in the five sets the two have played on clay which includes a routine victory for the Spaniard during their Davis Cup meeting earlier this year.
Nadal's Road To The Final
After suffering a quarterfinals loss to Dominic Thiem in Madrid, the 31-year-old Spaniard looked to extremely sharp in his opener against Damir Dzumhur, dropping just a single game. He looked equally as strong against teenage sensation Denis Shapovalov before his quarterfinal showdown with Fabio Fognini.
Fognini used the home crowd as well as some excellent tennis to his advantage to stun Nadal in the opening set, but the world number one resumed his fantastic play this week to easily take sets two and three. Nadal's semifinal was the rekindling of an old flame, meeting Novak DJokovic for the first-time in over a year. Despite struggling at times, Nadal was still just a bit too strong for the Serb to move to 10-0 all-time in semifinals in Rome.
Zverev's Road To The Final
After winning in Madrid, Zverev opened his title defense in Rome with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Italian Matteo Berrettini. He had a hard-earned second win, over Kyle Edmund, saving numerous set points for the Brit during the second set tiebreak, eventually taking it 13-11.
The German's quarterfinal match was a tight one with David Goffin. Zverev had issues with the chair umpire and was even down a break but found a way back to knock off the Belgian. In his semifinal match against Cilic, it was a tight affair which saw an even longer tiebreak than the one Zverev had one with Edmnud. The German took the opening set breaker 15-13 and broke late in the second to win 7-5.
Expect this match to have a lot of long rallies from the baseline. Zverev will try to win as many points as he can with his serve while Nadal will look to get to the net as much as possible as he is one of the best finishers in the forecourt today. The German's first serve isn't as big as some would expect it to be for someone 6'6'', but it is definitely one of the most improved facets of his game.
During the baseline rallies, expext to see Nadal to pepper the Zverev forehand with the German to pepper the Nadal backhand. Usually, Nadal would attack the backhand of most right-handers to set up his down the line forehand, but the 21-year-old's backhand is his go-to shot, usually running around his forehand to hit his two-hander.
Though he has not shown it in his last two matches, fatigue could very much play a factor for the German. His last three matches have gone near or over the two-hour mark. Add in the fact with this will be the first Masters title defense, there could be some mental fatigue as well.
This will be a long, grueling match with plenty of rallies. It's a battle between the King of Clay and the player who likely has earned the title, the Prince of Clay after two career Masters titles and three consecutive finals this year on the red dirt. Regardless of the outcome, it will be a titanic showdown that many hope to see in Paris in a few weeks time.
Prediciton: Nadal in three sets