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Italian Open: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic renew rivalry ahead of Roland Garros

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Spanish world No 2, a nine-time winner in Rome, makes his competitive return to tennis after six months

Italian Open: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic renew rivalry ahead of Roland Garros
Spanish world No 2, a nine-time winner in Rome, makes his competitive return to tennis after six months

Rafael Nadal of Spain holds the Italian Open trophy after beating Novak Djokovic in the 2019 final. AP Photo

The National
September 13, 2020
Rafael Nadal will make his return to competitive tennis this week at the Italian Open, while Novak Djokovic participates in his first event since getting disqualified from the US Open.

Preparing for the rescheduled French Open, which begins on September 21, Nadal has won a record nine titles on the red clay of Rome, normally played in May but will start behind closed doors on Monday.

World No 1 Djokovic, a four-time Rome winner and five-time runner-up, lost to Nadal last year in the final.

The 33-year-old Serb is the top seed ahead of world No 2 Nadal, in the tuneup for the final Grand Slam of the season at the French Open which begins on September 27.

Djokovic won the French Open in 2016, with Nadal having won the last three titles since, taking his Roland Garros tally to 12.

Nadal, 34, has not played since winning the Mexico Open at the end of February, skipping the US Open over coronavirus concerns.

Djokovic tested positive for coronavirus in June after an exhibition tournament he organised, but won his 80th career title at the Cincinnati Masters – relocated to the New York bubble – last month. He also captured his 35th ATP Masters crown, matching Nadal’s all-time record, with the pair battling to pull ahead in Rome this week.

Djokovic arrives in Rome after his bid for an 18th Grand Slam ended amid controversy at the US Open a week ago when he was disqualified after accidentally striking a female line judge with a ball during his last-16 match.

Nadal opens his Rome challenge on Wednesday against 27th-ranked fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, the recipient of a first round bye, after his run to the US Open semi-finals.

Nadal could play either Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or seventh seeded Italian Fabio Fognini for a place in the final. The Spaniard has a 61-6 tournament record, having not lost before the quarter-finals since 2008.

Djokovic will start against either Italian Salvatore Caruso or a qualifier, with a potential semi-final clash against France’s fifth seed Gael Monfils or tenth seeded Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

US Open finalists Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, the 2017 winner, both pulled out after their runs in Flushing Meadows, with injured Roger Federer also sidelined.

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Rafa Nadal and I have had our differences, but he’s an absolute champion,’ says Nick Kyrgios

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Nick Kyrgios admits that he and Rafa Nadal have ‘had their differences’ over the years but he can’t help but admire his achievements.

Nadal won his 20th Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros earlier this month to draw level with Roger Federer in the history books.

Kyrgios has a bit of a storied past when it comes to spats with Nadal, who he once branded ‘super salty’ whilst accusing him of being a bad loser.

Even he, though, can’t deny the Spaniard has achieved something special.

“I wasn’t surprised when I saw Rafa Nadal pretty much easing his way through the draw at the French Open,” Kyrgios told Courtside Huddle.

“That’s his backyard, he loves playing there and he has only lost two matches in his entire career.

“Honestly, in my opinion I don’t think we are going to see anything like that ever again.

“Somebody so dominant on a surface he’s right there with the greatest of all time. You can argue that he is the greatest.’

“You look at Federer, he’s the most dominant player of all time, but in this era it’s actually Rafa. It’s a debate you can have.”

“We had our differences when we played each other. We’re fiery, we’re competitors and are going to go after each other.

“But at the same time I am not going to take anything away from him . He’s an absolute champion and 20 Grand Slam is ridiculous and I don’t think we are ever going to see that again.”

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