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No excuses for Novak Djokovic after French Open defeat: ‘Rafa played a perfect match’

Novak Djokovic credited ‘phenomenal’ Rafael Nadal after one-sided defeat in the French Open final.

The 2020 French Open men’s singles final, which many expected to be a lengthy, four- or five-set affair, turned out to be one of Rafael Nadal’s most dominant victories over one of his biggest rivals.

Nadal claimed a thirteenth French Open title with a 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic which was so one-sided that many wondered whether Djokovic was physically compromised in some way.

But Djokovic denied the possibility, pointing to what he called a ‘phenomenal’ performance by Nadal.

‘I was fine. Everything was okay. I was ready for this match. It’s just that I was overplayed. I mean, I was beaten by a guy who was just perfect today,’ he said.

In the first two sets, Nadal hit 21 winners and just six unforced errors while breaking Djokovic five times.

Djokovic did serve very poorly, landing just 42% of first serves in the first set and winning only three of 11 points played behind his first serve. But the greatest returner in tennis couldn’t break Nadal for two and a half sets and only created three break point opportunities in the first two sets.

Nadal with the trophy (Aurelien Morissard / IP3)

It was a command performance by Nadal, the greatest male player that the French Open has ever known. Many games went to deuce at least once, but it was always Nadal who came up with the sensational winner down the line, or the perfect riposte to the Djokovic drop shot (a tactic which had been working for the world no. 1 throughout the tournament, but which yielded few dividends today against the foot-speed and feathery-light touch of Nadal).

The match only become truly competitive towards the end, when Djokovic responded to being broken at 3-3 by immediately breaking back. The Serbian player, who had been noticeably calm and subdued through the match up until that point, suddenly let loose with a roar of pure emotion, gesturing the crowd to get on their feet and support him.

This more fired-up Djokovic kept the set on serve for a few games, saving break point to do so at 4-5. He had 0-15 on Nadal’s serve in the next game, but Nadal reeled off four straight points to level, then broke Djokovic to love in the next game when Djokovic’s second serve shaded long. Nadal served the match out to love, sealing victory with an ace.

A gracious Djokovic speaks at the trophy ceremony (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

The last match the two had played in a Grand Slam final had seen Djokovic comprehensively outplay Nadal for a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory at the Australian Open in 2019, but this was a complete turning of the tables, as Djokovic acknowledged.

During the trophy ceremony, he joked that Nadal had ‘shown why [he] was King of Clay – I have experienced it on my own skin.’

Speaking to the media, he said:

‘Certainly I could have played better, especially in the first two sets. But he did surprise me with the way he was playing, the quality of tennis he was producing, the level. I mean, he’s phenomenal. He played a perfect match, especially in the first two sets.’

Nadal’s 100th match win at Roland Garros also saw him tie Roger Federer’s all-time Grand Slam title record of 20, the pair of them leaving Djokovic some distance behind with 17.

Federer was quick to congratulate Nadal on social media:

 

 

But immediately after the match, Nadal was keen to emphasize that for him this victory was not about the records.

‘To win here means everything to me,’ he told post-match interviewer Fabrice Santoro through a branded mask on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

‘Is not the moment – honestly, not for me I don’t think today about the twentieth or [about] equal[ling] Roger on this great number, for me today is just a Roland Garros victory, no?

‘Roland Garros means everything for me.’

Nadal also found time for a heartfelt message to the world at large about dealing with the current health crisis, and was keen to put his achievement in winning a thirteenth French Open title in context.

‘I played at my highest level when I needed to play at my highest level, so […] I am very proud. The personal satisfaction is big because under the circumstances that we played this Roland Garros.’

Nadal also floated the possibility of ending his season after the victory and not playing the Nitto ATP Finals in November, saying that he would make a decision over the next few days after consulting with his team.

Can Novak Djokovic deny Rafael Nadal a thirteenth French Open title?

We break down the men’s singles draw, analyse the contenders and predict the semifinalists and champion as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem lead the draw at the 2020 US Open.

Rafael Nadal faces Novak Djokovic in the French Open final on Sunday 11 October – read our match analysis and predictions here.

French Open 2020: Preview

No man has ever ruled the French Open, also known as Roland Garros, like 12-time champion Nadal, who has only ever lost two matches there.

But the 2020 French Open will be different – it’s being played in chilly, damp autumn instead of the sunshine and heat of June, and at best only limited spectators will be allowed, with players enclosed in a bio-security bubble.

Can Nadal adapt to these new conditions, and his own lack of match practice, or will one of his challengers wrest the Coupe des Mousquetaires from his grasp?

US Open Semifinals

Novak Djokovic (1) vs Stefanos Tsitsipas (5), 5pm local/4pm BST

World no. 1 Novak Djokovic faces Stefanos Tsitsipas, playing his second Grand Slam semifinal, as Djokovic attempts to reach the final of the French Open for the fifth time.

Djokovic comes into the match with physical concerns, having struggled in his quarterfinal against Pablo Carreno Busta. Djokovic took to the court with his neck taped and clearly suffering from pain and stiffness in his left arm. He dropped the first set to Carreno Busta – the first set he has lost in the tournament – but won 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 and said afterwards that the pain faded as his body warmed up.

Read full match analysis and get head-to-head stats and more on Djokovic vs Tsitsipas.

Tsitsipas, in contrast, looked just the right combination of relaxed and intense as he faced Andrey Rublev in what was not just the Greek’s first Grand Slam quarterfinal since his initial breakthrough semifinal run at the Australian Open in 2019, but a rematch of the Hamburg Open final which Tsitsipas had served for and then ended up losing a few weeks before. But a polished performance by Tsitsipas saw him claim his first win over Rublev in four attempts, his all-court game leaving the Russian looking one-dimensional and his backhand standing up to the Rublev forehand better than it has before.

Tsitsipas has beaten Djokovic before, but not on clay, and most crucially not over the best-of-five sets. Djokovic has obvious physical concerns, but even if he loses the first set against Tsitsipas, he’ll always be favoured to play his way into the match. You can’t say the same for Tsitsipas.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs Diego Schwartzman (12), 2.50pm local/1.50pm BST

Nadal has never won the French Open when he came in without winning a title on clay, although that stat is a little misleading – all bets are off in this strangest season, after all (though not literally). He has still only lost two matches at Roland Garros, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that although he played abysmally in losing to Schwartzman in Rome, the 12-time champion has had exactly the draw he needs to play himself in.

Nadal dropped only 23 games in reaching the quarterfinals, beating Egor Gerasimov, Mackenzie McDonald, Stefano Travaglia and young qualifier Sebastian Korda all without turning a hair, pretty much; and he’s adapted his game to the slower, colder conditions, flattening out the cross-court backhand in particular. His sternest test of the tournament came against 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner, who had eliminated David Goffin in the first round and Alexander Zverev in the fourth; Sinner served for the first set, had a break lead in the second, but still lost in straight sets, Nadal winning 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1.

Read full match analysis and get live streaming information for Nadal vs Schwartzman.

Meanwhile, Diego Schwartzman earlier that day played for over five hours to knock out Dominic Thiem, in a match which was both a very impressive win – Thiem was looking for his fifth straight semifinal or better at the French Open – and also something of a missed opportunity for Schwartzman, who arguably could and should have won in straight sets.

If he had, he would have been at less of a physical disadvantage coming into the semifinal against Nadal, although both players do have two days to recover.

Schwartzman beat Nadal in Rome in straight sets, his first victory over the Spaniard in ten attempts. But it’s difficult to see him repeating the feat. Nadal served abysmally in Rome, and didn’t play well off the ground, while Schwartzman was inspired and aggressive. If Nadal plays even 20% better, Schwartzman will be forced back off the court and unable to dictate and the match will follow familiar patterns – the Argentine could come out and absolutely redline for a set and maybe take it, but will be unable to keep up the pressure over the best of five.

French Open 2020: Prediction

Semifinals:

Djokovic d. Tsitsipas
Nadal d. Schwartzman

Final:

Nadal d. Djokovic

Will Novak Djokovic become the first man to beat Rafael Nadal in a French Open final?

Djokovic vs Nadal is live from Roland Garros on Sunday 11 October, 3pm local/2pm BST

History is always on the line when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic face each other, but perhaps never more so than Sunday’s French Open final. If Nadal wins, he will increase his haul of Roland Garros titles to 13 and tie Roger Federer’s all-time Grand Slam record of 20 titles. If Djokovic wins, he will be the first man to beat Nadal at the French Open twice, the only man to beat him in a Roland Garros final and the first man in Open Era history to win each Grand Slam at least twice, as well as narrowing the gap on Nadal and Federer in the all-time Grand Slam race.

French Open 2020: Find out tournament information for Roland Garros 2020 and how to stream French Open matches live

Nadal has yet to drop a set at this year’s French Open, and his supremacy on the courts of Roland Garros knows no equal – but in recent years, Djokovic has continued to turn the tide of their rivalry in his favour, winning seven of their last ten matches and leading the head-to-head 29-26.

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Djokovic vs Nadal live

French Open matches including Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.

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Djokovic vs Nadal: Head-to-head

Novak Djokovic leads the head-to-head with Rafael Nadal 29-26. On clay, however, Nadal has the advantage, leading 17-7. It’s been four years since Djokovic has beaten Nadal on clay.

At Grand Slams, Nadal leads the head-to-head 9-6, but Djokovic has won the last three. In Grand Slam finals, it’s 4-4.

Nadal won the first six matches they played against each other at Roland Garros but Djokovic won their last encounter in straight sets in the 2015 quarterfinals.

Djokovic vs Nadal: Preview

These two have played each other 55 times, so in one sense there will be no surprises when the two meet in Sunday’s French Open final – and yet, the outcome remains uncertain.

Djokovic took the ascendancy in the rivalry in the past decade, and has won 10 of the 13 matches they have played over the past five years, including his straight-sets victory over Nadal in the French Open quarterfinals in 2015. But they have only played on clay three times in the past three years. Each time, Nadal has been the winner.

The past fortnight has demonstrated once again just why Nadal is on the brink of winning his 13th French Open title. Unfavourable conditions, new balls he doesn’t like, an extreme lack of recent competitive matches – none of it has stopped him from reaching the final without dropping a single set. Against Diego Schwartzman in the semifinals, he won a 64-minute first set and survived a late charge from the Argentine. Perhaps most ominously, he is showing no signs of physical frailty or wear-and-tear.

Novak Djokovic (Photo by laurent Zabulon/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Djokovic palpably struggled with a left neck/shoulder/arm issue against Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarterfinals, but there was no tape on his neck nor any sign of being hindered when he faced Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals. The last thing he needed was a long match, though, and that’s what he got, finding himself taken to a fifth set despite holding match point in the third against a seemingly totally outplayed Tsitsipas. The Greek’s surge back to level the match had much more to do with him than it did with a drop in Djokovic’s level, but when Nadal was faced with a similar surge from Schwartzman, he contained it and got out of there in straight sets. Djokovic didn’t, or couldn’t, and it could be the difference in Sunday’s final – not just the fact that Nadal expended less energy, but that the Spanish player was able to find that extra gear when needed.

The trend of the rivalry in recent years has been in Djokovic’s direction, but they’ve met so infrequently in recent years – no more than twice a year for the past three years – and in such different conditions that it’s difficult to read too much into it. I thought coming into this tournament that Djokovic would win it. I’ve changed my mind.

Djokovic vs Nadal: Prediction

Will Rafael Nadal avenge his shock Rome Masters defeat to Diego Schwartzman when they face off in the semifinals of the French Open?

Rafael Nadal vs Diego Schwartzman is live from Roland Garros on Friday 9 October, 3pm local/2pm BST

Rafael Nadal was denied crucial warm-up matches and wins at the Rome Masters when Diego Schwartzman shocked him in the quarterfinals – now they meet again with a place in the French Open final on the line.

French Open 2020: Find out tournament information for Roland Garros 2020 and how to stream French Open matches live

Nobody in 12 previous Roland Garros semifinals has managed to beat Nadal, and Schwartzman – as if a 1-9 head-to-head against the Spaniard wasn’t daunting enough – played over five hours to beat Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals. Surely he will not have enough left in the tank with which to challenge the King of Clay.

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Nadal vs Schwartzman live

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3. Go to tennis > French Open > Nadal vs Schwartzman

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Nadal vs Schwartzman: Head-to-head

Rafael Nadal leads the head-to-head with Diego Schwartzman 9-1, 5-1 on clay.

Nadal has won nine of the 12 sets they have played on clay. Schwartzman beat Nadal 6-2, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the Rome Masters recently.

Nadal vs Schwartzman: Preview

Rafael Nadal’s shock defeat to Diego Schwartzman in Rome was largely responsible for much of the speculation that winning this year’s French Open – in new, possibly unsuitable conditions and weather, after just three matches played since February – would be beyond the 12-time champion. So it makes a nice kind of sense that Nadal, back in the Roland Garros semifinals without dropping a set, has the chance to possibly reverse that result and make a statement ahead of a probable clash with Novak Djokovic in the final.

It was hard to tell, as Nadal sped through the first few rounds, whether he was finding his best level or simply not being meaningfully tested. But against Jannik Sinner in the quarterfinals, in the first set in particular, Nadal was tested. It was cold, damp and late (the match did not finish until 1.30am in Paris), and the 19-year-old Italian really took the game to Nadal, even breaking the second seed and serving for the opening set. Nadal needed to find something for the first time at the tournament, and he did: He found a pair of utterly ferocious forehand winners to break back, and he never lost it again.

Sinner didn’t totally crumble after losing the first set in a tie-break – he broke Nadal at the beginning of the second set – but he just found himself systematically being sidelined as a factor in the match as Nadal got better and better, figuring out how to play his aggressive tennis in those conditions. By the last set, Nadal was totally dominant.

Diego Schwartzman (Photo by Laurent Zabulon/ ABACAPRESS.COM)

If Nadal is disadvantaged about having to end a match so late – and don’t misunderstand, these can be serious issues for players in the routine of a tournament – then it definitely balances the scales, to say the least, that Schwartzman had to play for five hours against Dominic Thiem in his quarterfinal. Part of it was Schwartzman’s own fault: It really felt like a match he could have won in straight sets, as he was the better player from the beginning with Thiem clearly physically and mentally tired. Schwartzman even served for the second and third sets, losing both; he retreated into his shell as well after failing to close out the second set, abandoning the attacking style which he had used so successfully against Nadal in Rome, and only found it again in the closing stages of the match as he outlasted Thiem for the 7-6(1), 5-7, 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 6-2 victory.

Schwartzman is riding so high on confidence at the moment, playing some of the best tennis of his career. Will it count against Nadal? I really don’t think so. Nadal played so poorly in that Rome defeat – in fact, he played like a man who had had seven months off! – and he’s not playing like that now. He’s serving well, adjusting his patterns with great success, and most importantly against Sinner he figured out how to get his forehand through the court in the most uncongenial conditions. Unless the late-night finish has really disrupted his rhythm – doubtful with two days to recover – Nadal will win this one in four sets at the most.

Nadal vs Schwartzman: Prediction

Rafael Nadal targets a thirteenth French Open semifinal appearance as he takes on Jannik Sinner, the Italian teenager making his Roland Garros debut, in the quarterfinals.

Nadal vs Sinner is live from Roland Garros on Tuesday 6 October, 7pm local/6pm BST

At 19, Jannik Sinner is the youngest player since 2006 to make the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam and the first player since Rafael Nadal himself to reach the last eight at the French Open on his debut appearance – but he’s up against the man himself now.

French Open 2020: Find out tournament information for Roland Garros 2020 and how to stream French Open matches live

Despite dire predictions about how Nadal would struggle to deal with the conditions, the 12-time champion is yet to drop a set and has lost only 23 games in four matches. Could Sinner be the first player to meaningfully test him?

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Nadal vs Sinner live

French Open matches including Rafael Nadal vs Jannik Sinner are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.

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Nadal vs Sinner: Head-to-head

This is the first meeting between Rafael Nadal and Jannik Sinner.

Nadal vs Sinner: Preview

It would make for a splendid story if Rafael Nadal were to lose to the first player to make the French Open quarterfinals on his debut since Nadal himself, but it doesn’t look too likely to happen.

We haven’t really seen Nadal face a tough opponent so far at the French Open – not that there any many tough opponents for Nadal at the French Open – with his trickiest test so far against world no. 83 Egor Gerasimov in the first round, who won ten of the 23 games Nadal has conceded so far at the tournament; that probably had more to do with conditions and the need to adjust to them than anything else. Young qualifier Sebastian Korda certainly didn’t manage to make much of an impact on Nadal’s game in the last 16, losing 1-6, 1-6, 2-6 (although what else can be expected when a player asks his opponent for their autograph after the match).

Nadal’s adaptability has been on full display so far: He’s flattened out his shots, especially on the cross-court backhand, and adjusted his court positioning for maximum impact. He hasn’t faced a single break point in two of his matches so far, although he was broken by both Gerasimov and Korda – once.

Jannik Sinner (JBAutissier/Panoramic.)

The question is how all of this will hold up against a tougher opponent – Nadal looked pretty good in Rome, too, until he came up against Diego Schwartzman – and whether or not Sinner can be that opponent.

The Italian teenager broke into the top 100 at the end of last year after winning the Ortisei Challenger (his third Challenger title of the season) and went on to win the Next Gen ATP Finals. Like Stefanos Tsitsipas, who preceded him as Next Gen champion, Sinner’s rise promises to be swift; a quarterfinalist in Rotterdam earlier this year, he got his second top-10 win of the year over Tsitsipas himself in Rome and has only dropped one set on his way to the French Open quarterfinals, against Alexander Zverev in the last 16.

Against Zverev, Sinner didn’t just showcase his blazing power; he had a smart game plan and he executed it consistently, refusing to be drawn into a grindfest and managing his energy much better than he was able to do at the US Open in his five-set defeat to Karen Khachanov. I actually think the Italian can cause Nadal some problems, if he handles the match well emotionally; the forehand battle in particular should be one to watch and Sinner’s attacking game can rock even Nadal back on his heels – for a little while. Nadal will win, but perhaps Sinner can push the scoreline to respectable levels.

Nadal vs Sinner: Prediction

Favourites Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman all look set to record straight-set victories in the fourth round of the French Open on day eight.

Three of the world’s best clay-court players take to the court on day eight of the French Open 2020 to face unseeded opponents, looking to book places in the quarterfinals in Paris. Here’s how we see those matches playing out on Sunday 4 October.

Read on for our preview and predictions for Nadal vs Korda, Thiem vs Gaston and Schwartzman vs Sonego.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs Sebastian Korda (Q)

When: Court Philippe-Chatrier, 1pm local/11am BST

Head-to-head: First meeting

Preview: Despite dire forewarnings about how Rafael Nadal might struggle to adjust to the very different conditions of an autumnal French Open, the 12-time champion is doing what champions do: Adapting. Nadal has flattened out his shots, particularly his backhand cross-court, is serving well and has dropped just 19 games in three matches.

Sebastian Korda, son of two professional players including 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, has now won six matches at Roland Garros to qualify for the main draw and make the fourth round on his first appearance at the French Open. But the 20-year-old has only ever beaten one player ranked inside the top 50. He’s a bright talent but Nadal should not give up any more games than he has in his last two matches (four and five, respectively).

Nadal vs Korda prediction: Nadal -11.5 games

Dominic Thiem (3) vs Hugo Gaston (WC)

When: Court Philippe-Chatrier, 5pm local/4pm BST

Head-to-head: First meeting

Preview: Twenty years old and ranked world no. 239, needing a wildcard to get into the French Open, Hugo Gaston was not a player many anticipated seeing in the last 16, even after he beat fellow wildcard Maxime Janvier and Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka to reach the third round.

Hugo Gaston (PA Images)

But against 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka, Gaston pulled off what was arguably the upset win of the tournament so far, beating Wawrinka 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 to make the last 16. At 5’8” Gaston is neither the tallest nor the most physically imposing player and he certainly couldn’t match Wawrinka’s power off the ground, which was supposed to be his big advantage in this tournament, but Gaston is a great mover, he showed real creativity and outlasted, outran and out-maneouvred Wawrinka.

Will the same tactics work against Thiem? In many ways, Thiem is a player in the same mould as Wawrinka, and he hasn’t looked flawless so far despite not dropping a set – all three of his opponents so far really should have won at least one set against him. They didn’t, though, and the US Open champion’s confidence is supreme. Gaston might – might – get a set. But no more.

Prediction:

Diego Schwartzman (12) vs Lorenzo Sonego

Diego Schwartzman (PA Images)

When: Court Suzanne-Lenglen, 2pm local/1pm BST

Head-to-head: First meeting

Preview: Admittedly not quite in the league of 12-time champion Nadal and two-time runner-up Thiem, Diego Schwartzman has nevertheless made himself into a force to be reckoned with on clay, particularly this year when he made his first Masters 1000 Series final in Rome by beating Nadal himself and then Denis Shapovalov to boot.

The Argentine is now looking to make his fourth career Grand Slam quarterfinal and second at the French Open, where he handled a potentially tricky opener against Kitzbuhel champion Miomir Kecmanovic with aplomb before giving neither qualifier Lorenzo Giustino nor Norbert Gombos a chance to find their feet.

Sonego, 25 years old, is at a career-high ranking of world no. 46 after some very strong results on clay in 2019, including a quarterfinal appearance at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, a semifinal in Kitzbuhel and a win at the Geneva Challenger; he also won his first ATP Tour title on grass in Antalya. He beat Emilio Gomez, Alexander Bublik and Taylor Fritz – three very varied opponents – to reach the last 16, and he’s playing well; this might go longer than three sets.

Prediction:

Twelve-time champion Rafael Nadal should be set to cruise past American Mackenzie McDonald at the French Open.

Nadal vs McDonald is live from Roland Garros on Wednesday 30 September, 2.30pm local/1.30pm BST

Rafael Nadal improved to 94-2 at the French Open when he defeated Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round, despite a lack of match practice in the run-up to the tournament due to the unusual 2020 schedule and a shock early defeat at the Rome Masters.

French Open 2020: Find out tournament information for Roland Garros 2020 and how to stream French Open matches live

Nadal looks set to extend his current winning streak at the French Open to 23 matches as he takes on world no. 236 Mackenzie McDonald, who is 2-6 in ATP Tour clay-court matches, for a place in the third round.

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Nadal vs McDonald live

French Open matches including Rafael Nadal vs Mackenzie McDonald are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.

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Nadal vs McDonald: Head-to-head

Rafael Nadal and Mackenzie McDonald have never played.

Nadal vs McDonald: Preview

World no. 2 Rafael Nadal was perhaps the least perturbed out of everybody when he lost 2-6, 5-7 to Diego Schwartzman at the Rome Masters two weeks ago, in what was just his third win after six months out of competition due to the impact of the global pandemic on the tennis schedule.

Nadal served very poorly and his ground game also seemed poor, with balls frequently landing short (all of which was taken full advantage of by an inspired Schwartzman), but again, the Spaniard did not seem too worried about finding his game when he got to Roland Garros – nor should he have been, judging by his performance against Egor Gerasimov in the first round.

Admittedly not facing the heaviest opposition, Nadal had little trouble beating Gerasimov in just over two hours 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. He served at a healthy 63% and won all but eight of the points played behind his first serve, as well as 65% of points played behind his second serve; he was broken once, but converted all five of the break points he created on Gerasimov’s serve, and hit 32 winners and 20 unforced errors.

Despite everybody’s dire predictions, it looks like Nadal is doing exactly what he said he would try to do: Adapt to these different conditions, and do his best to replicate his previous successes.

Mackenzie McDonald (Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA(

Next up for Nadal is Mackenzie McDonald, who is not likely to give him too much pause. Ranked world no. 57 in April of last year, McDonald had earned that ranking with a run to the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2018, followed by more strong results in 2019 including a semifinal run in Delray Beach (where he beat Juan Martin del Potro), a win over Andrey Rublev at the Australian Open and back-to-back wins in Acapulco and Barcelona. But at last year’s French Open, McDonald incurred a hamstring injury which required surgery; by the time he returned in January, his ranking had slipped outside the top 100 and now outside the top 200.

There have been hopeful signs for McDonald, who beat Dominik Koepfer and Yuichi Sugita in qualifying for ‘Cincinnati’ and also pushed Casper Ruud to a fifth set in the first round of the US Open; he also had a good win over qualifier Steven Diez of Canada 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. He’s a good mover, and in normal French Open conditions I might like his chances to make an impact a little more, but under these circumstances he’s really going to struggle to get the ball through the court or to finish points against Nadal.

Nadal vs McDonald: Prediction

Will Rafael Nadal maintain an unbeaten record against Diego Schwartzman when they clash in the quarterfinals of the Rome Masters on Saturday?

Nadal vs Schwartzman is live from Rome on Saturday 19 September, 8.30pm local/7.30pm BST

After six months out of competition, Rafael Nadal has dropped just six games in his first two matches at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia – can Diego Schwartzman make him work harder?

Rome Masters 2020: Find out tournament information for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and how to stream ATP Rome matches live

Argentina’s Schwartzman has shaken off poor form to reach the quarterfinals in Rome for the second straight year, but unless he can find a way to beat Nadal for the first time in ten attempts, he will be unable to repeat last year’s semifinal showing.

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Nadal vs Schwartzman live

Rome Masters matches including Rafael Nadal vs Diego Schwartzman are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.

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Nadal vs Schwartzman: Head-to-head

Rafael Nadal leads the head-to-head with Diego Schwartzman 9-0, and has won 22 of the 24 sets they have played.

Nadal vs Schwartzman: Preview

Rafael Nadal’s performances at the Rome Masters so far have made six months away from competition look like six days. The nine-time champion has lost just six games in his first two matches, and if a 6-1, 6-1 trouncing of recent US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta could be explained by the younger Spaniard’s fatigue after his run in New York and having to make a brutally quick transition to a different surface, a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Dusan Lajovic proved that Nadal’s form is no illusion.

True, Lajovic has not been a difficult opponent for Nadal in the past, but the Serb was a runner-up at the Monte-Carlo Masters last May and truthfully he did play a lot better than the scoreline suggested against Nadal. In the first set, he was broken immediately but broke straight back for 1-1, and at 1-2, fended off six break points in a nine-deuce game before finally succumbing and being broken again. He would not win another game in that set and fell behind 1-4 in the second, but retrieved one of the breaks to valiantly pull himself back almost level before Nadal broke him one last time to love to close out the win in 91 minutes.

Nadal hit an absurdly good return winner off his forehand wing – off a very good serve, too – at a crucial moment in that lengthy 1-2 game, but his forehand was firing throughout, and his backhand was almost as good. Indeed, it was difficult to fault Nadal’s performance at all, and not just in the context of having been out of competition for six months.

With the French Open just over a week away, of course, there is no time to waste, but it’s still impressive that Nadal has been able to find his form so quickly and he is now one match away from a twelfth Rome Masters semifinal.

Diego Schwartzman made the semifinals of the Rome Masters in 2019 (PA Images)

Diego Schwartzman made his first Rome Masters semifinal in 2019, beating Kei Nishikori to do so before losing to Novak Djokovic in three sets. A three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, including at the French Open in 2018 when he lost to Nadal in four, Schwartzman had a solid start to the year with an Australian Open fourth-round finish and an ATP Tour final in Cordoba, but hasn’t looked very good since the restart, going 1-2 in the USA before losing to qualifier Laslo Djere in the Kitzbuhel quarterfinals last week.

To be honest, Schwartzman’s form in Rome this week hasn’t been convincing either, and he’s benefited from a good draw: After a first-round bye, he beat John Millman 6-4, 7-6(1) before battling past big-serving Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Nadal’s head-to-head against Schwartzman speaks for itself: 9-0, and 22 of 24 sets won against the Argentine, who is an exceptional mover and defender but can only ever threaten Nadal by pushing himself to a level of aggression he’s unable to sustain. The only value you will find in this one is in backing Schwartzman to be able to push the scoreline past 6-3, 6-4, or in backing Nadal to win 6-2, 6-2 or more one-sidedly. I know which one looks more likely.

Nadal vs Schwartzman: Prediction

Rafael Nadal aims to continue his triumphant return to action as he faces Dusan Lajovic in the last 16 of the Rome Masters on Friday.

Nadal vs Lajovic is live from Rome on Friday 18 September, 7pm local/6pm BST

Despite a 200-day absence from competition, Rafael Nadal picked up where he left off before the shutdown when he returned to action in Rome on Wednesday, beating US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-1.

Rome Masters 2020: Find out tournament information for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and how to stream ATP Rome matches live

Next up for the nine-time champion at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia is last year’s surprise Monte-Carlo Masters finalist Dusan Lajovic, who has never taken a set from Nadal.

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

How to watch Nadal vs Lajovic live

Rome Masters matches including Rafael Nadal vs Dusan Lajovic are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.

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3. Go to tennis > US Open > Nadal vs Lajovic

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Nadal vs Lajovic: Head-to-head

Rafael Nadal leads the head-to-head with Dusan Lajovic 2-0, and 6-0 in sets. They played on clay at the French Open in 2014 and at the US Open in 2017.

Nadal has won five of the six sets they played by either a 6-2 or 6-1 scoreline.

Nadal vs Lajovic: Preview

Playing for the first time since winning his 85th career title in Acapulco in February, Nadal took just 74 minutes and dropped only two games against an opponent who had just reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam.

To be fair, Carreno Busta was clearly exhausted from that run, which ended last Friday with the second of lengthy back-to-back five-setters; and he has never been a dangerous opponent for Nadal, having only won one set in their five previous encounters.

Nevertheless, it was a fairly ominous statement from Nadal ahead of the French Open, reminding us that no matter how little match-practice he’s had in the preceding months, he remains so formidable on this particular surface that he can render his opponent’s form (and pretty much their presence on the other side of the net) irrelevant.

Nadal faced one break point in the match, which he saved, and never really looked under much strain. He was seeded to meet Milos Raonic in the third round, but instead the man trying to stop him from making the quarterfinals in Rome for the fifteenth time will be Dusan Lajovic.

Dusan Lajovic made the final of the Monte-Carlo Masters in 2019 (AAP Image/Natasha Morello)

Serbia’s Lajovic is best known for a surprise run to the final of the Monte-Carlo Masters in 2019, a tournament which saw Nadal somewhat shockingly lose in the semifinals to Fabio Fognini, who beat Lajovic in the final. But there was nothing fluke-y about Lajovic’s run, which saw him beat David Goffin, Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev – all absolutely excellent clay-courters – to reach the final. Lajovic also beat Fognini at the French Open the same summer, and gave Alexander Zverev some serious trouble over five sets in the last 16; he was also a Madrid Masters quarterfinalist in 2018, and has beaten Juan Martin del Potro there.

Lajovic scored wins over Karen Khachanov and Felix Auger-Aliassime in the course of Serbia’s run to the ATP Cup title in January and made the third round of the Australian Open, but came into Rome on a three-match post-shutdown losing streak, having gone out to Carreno Busta, Egor Gerasimov and Yannick Hanfmann in ‘Cincinnati’, New York and Kitzbuhel respectively (to be fair, Hanfmann would make the final). He had a good win over qualifier Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-4, 6-4, and beating Raonic is always impressive, although Raonic served more double faults than aces – never a good sign for the big Canadian.

Can Lajovic push Nadal? Well, he never has before. Five of the six sets they’ve played, including all three on clay, have been won 6-1 or 6-2 by Nadal. Lajovic is a better player than he used to be, so I would expect him to get a couple more games, but a dominant one-sided win by Nadal is the order of the day.

Nadal vs Lajovic: Prediction

Rafael Nadal returns to action while Novak Djokovic tries to rebound from shock US Open exit at the 2020 Rome Masters.

We break down the men’s singles draw, analyse the contenders and predict the semifinalists and champion as Djokovic, Nadal, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini lead the field at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, better known as the Rome Masters.

ATP Rome Masters Preview

The compressed and rescheduled European clay-court season gets its first big event at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, a combined Masters 1000 Series/WTA Premier-5 tournament played at the Foro Italico in Rome.

Usually a May event, this year the Rome Masters takes place from 14-21 September and is marked by the return to action of world no. 2 Rafael Nadal, looking for his tenth title in Rome as well as aiming to find his game after a six-month absence and ahead of his quest for a thirteenth French Open crown.

US Open semi/finalists Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev have pulled out, but those who made an earlier exit from New York than they wanted are in the field, including four-time Rome champion Novak Djokovic, Greece’s Tsitsipas and home favourite Berrettini.

How to watch the Rome Masters

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2. Sign in or open an account and deposit £5 or more
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ATP Rome Draw Analysis

Novak Djokovic is looking for his fifth title at the Rome Masters (Foto Antonietta Baldassarre / Insidefoto/Sipa USA)

Top Quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Novak Djokovic (1) vs Gael Monfils (5)
No longer unbeaten in 2020, although still yet to lose a completed match, world no. 1 Djokovic takes the court in Rome surely still reeling from his shock US Open disqualification after accidentally striking a linesperson in the throat with a ball.

Djokovic has to look to the future, however, and he has an amazing record in Rome: Although the most recent of his fourth titles came in 2015, he has reached the final three times in subsequent years and the semifinal once. With a 50-9 record at the Foro Italico, Djokovic could face Felix Auger-Aliassime, who has made two ATP Tour finals on clay, in the third round; Auger-Aliassime has a first-round clash with the in-form Filip Krajinovic to contend with, and Kyle Edmund, who has beaten Djokovic on clay once before, is also in this section.

Gael Monfils makes his return to competition as Djokovic’s projected quarterfinal opponent, but could face US Open quarterfinalist Alex de Minaur in the second round, while all eyes will be on a potential second-round clash between Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori with the winner to face Monfils or de Minaur in the third round.

Predicted semifinalist: Djokovic

Second Quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Matteo Berrettini (4) vs David Goffin (6)
Berrettini and Goffin both fell in the round of 16 in New York, so will not have had long to practice on clay. Fourth seed Berrettini will be the focus of home hopes, having made the round of 16 in Rome last year, but could have a tough second-round opener against big-serving Jan-Lennard Struff; the winner of that one is projected to face Cristian Garin, who beat Berrettini in the Munich final last year, in the third round. Garin opens against Borna Coric, a US Open quarterfinalist who might be pressed to recover enough to challenge for that one.

David Goffin could face Marin Cilic, struggling for form but always dangerous, after a first-round bye; Karen Khachanov, who plays some of his best tennis on clay, could await in the third although he has a tough opener against rising Norwegian Casper Ruud.

Predicted semifinalist: Garin

Third quarter

Sefanos Tsitsipas was a Rome Masters semifinalist in 2019 (Photo Andrea Staccioli / Insidefoto/Sipa USA)

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Fabio Fognini (7) vs Stefanos Tsitsipas (3)
Fognini, who lost to a Swiss qualifier ranked outside the top 300 when he made his return to competition in Kitzbuhel, comes in on a four-match losing streak stretching back to the Australian Open. One of the finest clay-courters on the ATP, who won a Masters 1000 Series on clay in Monte Carlo in 2019, Fognini has made one quarterfinal in 13 Rome appearances. He has a book to promote, though, and his draw isn’t awful: Kevin Anderson or Ugo Humbert in the second round, Denis Shapovalov possibly in the third; Guido Pella might be the only lurking threat.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is trying to rebound from letting six match points slip against Coric at the US Open. A semifinalist in Rome last year, Tsitsipas could face Italy’s youthful rising star Jannik Sinner in the second round and Grigor Dimitrov or perhaps Miomir Kecmanovic, a finalist in Kitzbuhel this week, in the third round.

Predicted semifinalist: Tsitsipas

Fourth quarter

Projected quarterfinal by seeding: Diego Schwartzman (8) vs Rafael Nadal (2)
Argentina’s Schwartzman has been on poor form lately, 2-3 on his return to competition, so there could be some opportunity in this section; Andrey Rublev, who is 19-5 and fresh from a quarterfinal run at the US Open, could take advantage, with Dan Evans or Hubert Hurkacz – neither playing particularly well right now – his potential second-round opponents.

This quarter though is all about Rafa. Playing for the first time since winning Acapulco in February, Nadal has a 61-6 record in Rome and is on a ten-match winning streak there after winning his eighth and ninth titles at the Foro Italico in 2018-19. The physical demands of adjusting back to matches is the big question mark for Nadal, and he certainly hasn’t been given an easy opening opponent; he’ll be up against US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta, given a performance bye into the second round, unless Carreno Busta withdraws.
Milos Raonic – not a natural clay-courter – or Dusan Lajovic, a runner-up at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in 2019 but not playing well at the moment, could await in the third round; a very manageable draw for Nadal.

Semifinalist: Nadal

ATP Rome Masters Prediction

Semifinals:

Djokovic d. Garin
Nadal d. Tsitsipas

Final:

Djokovic d. Nadal