Rafa Nadal rolled back the years by winning a third major European clay court tournament in a row at the Madrid Masters yesterday, which was his seventh overall, beating eighth seed Thiem in the final and adding to his Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona titles. After such a long period of dominance from mainly Djokovic and Murray, it’s remarkable to witness such a shift in power back to arguably the two greatest players the world has ever seen, Federer and Nadal given their age, and with such a big group of young talented players coming through. It looks like Nadal will continue to sweep all aside on the red dirt and with Federer well rested and seemingly at the peak of his powers again, he will be extremely difficult to beat at Wimbledon and during the US hard court swing.
On to this week’s ATP action and we have the final ATP Masters Series clay court event of the season at Rome, which leads up to the second Grand Slam of the season the French Open at Roland Garros that gets underway on Monday 29th May. Not surprisingly like many of the other Masters Series finals over the last decade, the Rome final has been dominated by Djokovic, Nadal and Murray.
Murray is the defending champion, Nadal has won five of the last ten titles, the last coming back in 2013 when he beat Federer and he’s featured in eight of the last ten finals overall. Djokovic has won four of the last ten titles and he’s featured in six of the last ten finals overall. The top two seeds have dominated the majority of finals over the last decade winning eight titles between them. The top seed has only won two of the last ten titles (last Nadal 2015), but was a losing finalist our times during this period (last Djokovic 2016).
The second seed has won five of the last ten titles (last Murray 2016) and they were a losing finalist once during this period (Federer 2015). Seeded players in general have dominated the tournament over the last decade; a player seeded no higher than three won the last ten titles and a player seeded no higher than 13 was a losing finalist nine times during this period, while there has only been one unseeded player reach the final over the last decade way back in 2008.
The top two seeds have contested the last five Rome Masters finals and looking at the form of the current one and two seeds it seems highly unlikely Murray and Djokovic will continue that trend this week. However, Murray is the defending champion this week and last year he arrived at Rome in similar form having won 17 and lost 5 matches (2017 16-6) and went on to end the season with nine title wins and ended the season as world number one. Defending the title this week will play a big part in him protecting his number one ranking and while his form suggests otherwise he still has to be respected especially now his odds are so enhanced.
Tennis is obviously a confidence game and with Nadal now on a 15 match clay court unbeaten run, which includes three tournament wins in a row (Monte Carlo Masters, Barcelona 500 and Madrid Masters), it’s safe to say he is brimming with confidence at present. On current form and full of confidence it's hard to ignore Nadal (11/10) extending his winning run to 20 matches and tournament haul to four in a row this week. If he does so he will match Djokovic’s record of 30 Masters 1000 Series career title wins and he will also be close to overtaking his nemesis in the ATP rankings.
Some of the ATP Tour’s established younger talented players like Thiem, Goffin, Carreno-Busta, Pouille, Sock and Zverev have featured prominently at this seasons Masters Series events and during the European clay court swing and of this bunch 9th seed Goffin (33/1) and 16th seed Alexander Zverev (22/1) are worth siding with this week as they avoid Nadal and Djokovic who are both in the bottom half of the draw this week.