After facing Novak Djokovic early in Monte Carlo, Sinner will have another chance to battle one of the “Big Three” on clay in the Round of 32. This time, he will face Rafael Nadal on the Roman clay. Sinner has only played in this tournament once before, while Nadal will be vying for a tenth title here. The pair has played once before at the 2020 French open, where Nadal snuffed out an early challenge from the young Italian to win in straight sets. A lot of fans are wondering whether Nadal will have as easy of a time with the youngster seven months later...
- Nadal leads the head to head 1-0 (Last match: Nadal d. Sinner @ French Open 2020)
- Nadal is 13-3 in 2021, with a notable three-set win against Tsitsipas in the Barcelona Open Final
- Sinner is 19-8 in 2021, with a notable straight-sets win against Rublev in Barcelona
- Nadal is 9-2 on clay in 2021
- Sinner is 7-3 on clay in 2021
Sinner is gifted with groundstrokes many claim top the ATP Tour. He has access to incredible power that is unstoppable when he is firing on all cylinders. Beyond that, he has an incredible mental game, oftentimes winning incredibly tight tiebreakers against the world’s top players like Rublev and Bautista Agut. Against the God of Clay, however, the only chance Sinner has of victory is by playing at his top level and hoping for some errors from the Spaniard. Nadal has been struggling on the backhand side as of late, so Sinner would do well to punish the Nadal backhand with his explosive forehand.
Round 1 | def. Humbert 6-2 6-4
Nadal has the game necessary to snuff out Sinner’s power. The key for the Spaniard is the heavy topspin forehand with enough height to take the ball out of Sinner’s comfort zone. Unlike Madrid, the Roman Clay doesn’t favor the fast ball, so Nadal can comfortably play his baseline game and expect to retrieve a few more of the Italian’s groundstrokes. By repeatedly pressuring Sinner’s forehand with high, loopy DTL forehands of his own, Nadal can turn this slugfest into a mental game, where he should have the advantage.
Nadal has only lost three times this year, but they have all been losses to the new generation. His first loss was a devastating one where he held a two-set lead against Stefanos Tsitsipas, but ultimately gave it up in a hugely entertaining match. His second loss was at the hands of Andrey Rublev, in a match that wasn’t as close as fans would have hoped, largely because Nadal wasn’t himself that day. He lost to Zverev along the same lines a couple of days ago in Madrid, but also because the Madrid Clay favored Zverev’s heavy firepower. Nadal will be looking to flip the narrative in Rome with a more “status quo” demonstration of mental willpower, strength and shotmaking to overcome the Italian. However, Sinner will definitely put up more resistance than he did in last year’s French Open, which will make this match exciting to watch. I will be backing Nadal for this encounter because he will be eager to prove his candidacy for winning yet another Roland Garros title.
Prediction: Nadal in 3 sets
Written by: Vikram Khandelwal