Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have contested an Open Era record 53 matches in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry (Djokovic leads 28-25). And the Top 2 players in the ATP Ranking will battle once again in the final of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
This will be the pair's eighth match in the Italian capital, the most times they have played at one tournament, breaking a tie with their seven Roland Garros clashes. Nadal leads Djokovic 4-3 in their mini-series at the ATP Masters 1000 event, which includes four meetings for the title (2-2).
Sunday's final will be especially significant as both men are attempting to claim sole ownership of the record for most Masters 1000 titles. Last week, at the Mutua Madrid Open, Djokovic equalled the Spaniard's haul of 33 crowns at this level.
Nadal arrived in Rome without a trophy on the season for the first time since 2004, the first year he won a title. The Spaniard, who fell to Djokovic in the Australian Open final in January, is building in confidence after a trio of semi-final runs in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid. The Manacor native has dropped just 13 games en route to the championship match, beating Jeremy Chardy, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Fernando Verdasco and Tsitsipas to move one win away from his ninth trophy at the event.
Djokovic is aiming to become the first man to win three tour-level titles this year. The Australian Open and Mutua Madrid Open titlist owns a 23-4 record this season and will be confident of adding to his 50 victories in Rome (50-8) after defeating Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-3, following his late-night quarter-final victory against Juan Martin del Potro. Djokovic saved two match points to defeat the Tower of Tandil 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 in the early hours of Saturday morning.
ATPTour.com takes a closer look at Nadal and Djokovic's seven previous meetings in Rome:
2018 Semi-final: Nadal d. Djokovic 7-6(4), 63
Entering the pair's first meeting in more than a year, Nadal was the clear favourite. The top seed had won 50 consecutive sets on clay — a record for the most sets claimed in a row on a single surface — before falling in the Madrid quarter-finals the previous week. And it was tough to tell how high Djokovic, still recovering from a right elbow injury, would be able to raise his level.
But the Serbian played excellent tennis, especially in the first set, comfortably finding the sharpest of angles from the backhand corner to give Nadal fits. But toward the end of the opening set, the Spaniard began to unleash his forehand down the line, therefore changing court positioning and taking control of baseline rallies, leading to his eventual victory.
It was an important win for Nadal, earning his 356th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 match victory to break a tie with Roger Federer (355) for the most in history. The 31-year-old also moved within one triumph of reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the ATP Rankings after dropping to No. 2 with his loss in Madrid. The triumph not only showed Nadal's great form, but also that Djokovic, despite competing in just his first semi-final of 2018, is on his way back to his top level.
2016 Quarter-final: Djokovic d. Nadal 75 76(4)
In their closest contest for almost two years, Djokovic rallied from a break down in both sets to thwart an in-form and enthusiastic Nadal. The Serb extended his recent mastery over the Spaniard to move into the Rome semi-finals for the 10th consecutive year. Djokovic has now won the past seven matches and 15 sets against Nadal.
The World No. 1 leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 26-23. He also moved within two matches of winning his 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.
2014 Final: Djokovic d. Nadal 46 63 63
Djokovic pulled closer to Nadal in the battle for No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings by claiming his third Rome title and 19th at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. It was the Serb's second triumph over his rival in a Rome final, having prevailed in the 2011 title match.
Nadal entered their 41st encounter having spent over 10 hours on court through the semi-finals, but the seven-time champion showed no signs of fatigue in the early stages. He would surge to a double-break lead in the first set behind a ferocious offensive onslaught, and held on to take the opener in 46 minutes. In their previous 10 meetings, the player who had won the first set went on to win the match. Djokovic was ready to buck the trend, finding his range and rhythm in the second and third sets and turning the tables with a tenacious attacking display.
He would hold Nadal to winning under 28 per cent of second serve points won for the rest of the match, firing return winners with ease and standing tall on the baseline. Djokovic's 46 winners (including 15 from the backhand side) and six aces were too much for Nadal to overcome.
2012 Final: Nadal d. Djokovic 75 63
The pair contested the final at the Foro Italico for the third time, with Nadal coming out on top to avenge the defeat he had suffered at Djokovic’s hands a year earlier. With the final rained off on Sunday, it was below brighter skies on Monday that the pair took to court. Djokovic was under immediate pressure from Nadal. The Serb, who had beaten Roger Federer in the semi-finals, saved two break points in his opening service game before Nadal converted his fourth opportunity to lead 3-2.
Djokovic immediately recovered the service break, but was broken by Nadal again in the 11th game, after a scintillating exchange at the net, and the Spaniard sealed the opener. Nadal was quick to capitalise on his momentum, taking advantage of an increased unforced error count by Djokovic and dominating from the baseline as he broke in the first game of the second set. Djokovic squandered four break back points in the following game, and another in the fourth game, before surrendering the match in the ninth game after two hours and 20 minutes with his fourth double fault.
2011 Final: Djokovic d. Nadal 64 64
One day after a thrilling semi-final win over Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic defeated defending champion Rafael Nadal for a second consecutive Sunday in a clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final. The Serbian broke the World No. 1 four times - including the final games of the first and second sets - to become just the second player (Davydenko) to record four straight victories against the Spaniard.
He also became the first player to win four Masters 1000 titles in one season since Nadal and Roger Federer claimed four apiece in 2005. On Saturday evening, Djokovic had come within two points of defeat before rallying to defeat Murray in a third-set tie-break. His streak of 39 successive tour-level victories following the Rome final was the sixth-longest winning streak in the Open Era.
2009 Final: Nadal d. Djokovic 76(2) 62
Two weeks on from their keenly contested match in the final of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Nadal and Djokovic met in an ATP World Tour final for the fourth time at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome. Nadal served for the first set twice, but each time was thwarted by a Djokovic determined to defend his title at the Foro Italico.
The Spaniard raised his level in the first-set tie-break though before breaking twice in the second set to secure his 30th consecutive clay-court victory and a record fourth Internazionali BNL d'Italia title after two hours and three minutes of play. Nadal’s victory had added significance for Djokovic, who will surrender his No. 3 South African Airways 2009 ATP Ranking to current No. 4 Andy Murray when the 2008 Rome points drop on 11 May.
2007 Quarter-final: Nadal d. Djokovic 62 63
Back on his beloved clay, two-time defending champion Rafael Nadal produced a devastating display to beat Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and 41 minutes. "I'm playing at my best level for sure," Nadal said after extending his Open Era record winning streak to 77 matches. "It was a very nice match. We were playing at 100 percent every point. Djokovic is very, very good player. He didn't play a bad match today. He served very well on the break points - unbelievable. Every time he beat me with the serve. But finally I played consistently, and that's decisive."