Three to See, Rome: Del Potro, Thiem look to stop Djokovic and Nadal

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Each day this week, we'll preview and predict three must-see matches at the Italian Open.

Rafael Nadal vs. Dominic Thiem

Are these two destined to meet in the French Open final? They’ve been building up to it. While Nadal has been the clay-court frontrunner this season, Thiem has been just a couple of steps behind him. The Spaniard beat the Austrian in hard-fought finals in Barcelona and Madrid, and now he’ll need to do it again in Rome to keep his momentum going. Nadal is favored, of course, but Thiem has been the toughest of outs lately. In Madrid he saved five match points to beat Grigor Dimitrov, and he saved three more in edging Sam Querrey in Rome on Thursday. These days, when he feels the pressure, Thiem swings for the fences, and more often than not he connects. He and Nadal have played five times, all on clay, and Rafa has won four of them.

Winner: Nadal

Venus Williams vs. Garbiñe Muguruza

With Serena Williams out and Angelique Kerber almost as absent, the women are still looking for a French Open favorite to emerge. Simona Halep put her name on the list last week; can one of these two women add theirs in Rome? Venus won at the Foro Italico in 1999, and reached the final of the French Open in 2002. Muguruza reached the semis in Rome last year before winning the title in Paris three weeks later. Each is erratic, but each has Slam-winning potential. Venus leads their head to head 3-0, but they haven’t faced each other since 2015.

Winner: V. Williams

Novak Djokovic vs. Juan Martin del Potro

These guys both had promising wins on Thursday. Djokovic played with more edge and freedom in beating Roberto Bautista Agut than he has shown recently, while Del Potro finally kick-started his clay season with a win over Kei Nishikori. The Argentine suddenly looks like a guy who can do some damage on dirt. Djokovic owns a 13-4 record over Delpo, and has won both of their meetings so far this year in three sets. He also won both of their meetings on clay, but they haven’t faced each other on this surface since 2011. Was Djokovic’s Thursday form a sign of things to come, or a one-day revival? Is Del Potro ready for the big boys on clay? We’ll find out in this Friday night match.

Winner: Djokovic

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