Djokovic and Nadal to meet in final showdown

Novak Djokovic prevailed in a three set tussle against Diego Schwartzman to set up a mouth-watering final against Rafael Nadal at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

It will be the fifth time the two players have met in the title decider at the Foro Italico with each player having two victories to their name. The Spaniard triumphed in 2009 and 2012 while the Serb lifted the trophy in 2011 and 2014. There have been other visits to the final here for both players – Nadal is an eight-time champion while Djokovic is seeking his fifth title.

The world No. 1, who lifted the trophy in Madrid last week, has not faced a straightforward path to the final this year. He made light work of Denis Shapovalov and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the opening two rounds but was forced to save two match points in a pulsating encounter against Juan Martin del Potro on Friday evening. He faced another late night tussle on Saturday when he was extended to three sets against Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in the semi-finals.

Schwartzman was in sensational form throughout the two hour 31 minute encounter, causing his opponent no end of trouble as he served well and mixed up play with some exquisite drop shots. Djokovic showed some moments of brilliance of his own, particularly when clinching the break in the third set, finally finding that extra level to get him over the line and into his second straight Masters 1000 final.

Nadal by contrast has barely broken sweat this week as he eased into his 11th Italian Open final. He overcame Jeremy Chardy, No. 14 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili and Fernando Verdasco for the loss of just six games and while he was made to work harder against rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semis, he secured the win without the loss of a set.

While the world No. 2 hasn’t been his normal dominant self this clay court season he appears to be peaking at the right time and will be keen to get the victory in Rome to raise his confidence and send a message to his competitors ahead of Roland Garros next week.

It will be the 54th time the two players have faced each other and although Djokovic leads their head-to-head 28-25, it’s Nadal who has the advantage on clay having won 16 of their 23 encounters. The two players are also tied with 33 Masters 1000 titles apiece so Sunday’s winner will become the new ATP Masters 1000 title leader.

“He [Nadal] is one of the greatest champions this game has ever seen. His mentality, his approach, his resilience, ability to fight back after long absence from the tour, injuries, surgeries, he’s had it all,” said Djokovic.

“He keeps on showing to the world why he’s one of the biggest legends of tennis history. I have greatest respect for him. He’s my greatest rival of all time, for sure. I’ve had so many matches against him. Up to date, we had the longest rivalry of tennis of all time. Played over 50 matches. Every time we get to play each other, it’s a thrill. It’s the ultimate challenge.”