Rome Finals: What Nadal, Djokovic, Sharapova and Stosur Each Need to Do to Win
It's been a scintillating week in the Italian capital—a week that epitomizes all to love about clay-court tennis.
The beautiful dogfights, like the show Djokovic and Murray put on last night. The stunning upsets, like Gasquet scored against Federer in the third round. The spirited comebacks, like the one Daniela Hantuchova faced at the hands of hometown favorite Francesca Schiavone.
Sunday's finals are sure to be just as thrilling.
Can the Djoker surprise Rafa and claim his second consecutive clay court Masters title? Can Stosur take advantage of her favorite surface and claim notch a first ever victory against her Russian opponent?
I break down what each player needs to do to take home the coveted Rome trophy.
Novak Djokovic: Can He Recover?
What does Novak need to do to win?
Djokovic's gutsy, unbelievable win over Andy Murray in last night's semifinal will go down as one of the best matches of the year. But the three-hour battle was equal parts physically—and emotionally-draining. He'll have to bounce back big time in order to be ready for Nadal, the most physical tennis player on the planet.
Keep Being Aggressive
The Serb's streak is largely based on his newfound ultra-aggressive approach. A ball will be coming at him down the middle and he'll casually step around it, belting an inside out forehand screamer or a blazing down-the-line backhand winner out of the blue. These incredibly timed shots have fared well against his biggest rivals as of late.
Get a Little Lucky
Djokovic is sure to be tired, and Rafa is gunning for revenge after last week's loss in his home country. So the Serb's gotta hope for a little luck—the same kind he got at the tail end of that Madrid tussle with the world No. 1, when two crucial let cords went his way.
Rafael Nadal: Can He Get Revenge?
What does Rafa need to do to win?
What killed Nadal in last week's Madrid final was the surprising lack of depth on his shots—particularly on the ever-so-solid forehand wing. It was reminiscent of his lone loss at Roland Garros to Robin Soderling, when the Spaniard couldn't seem to find a way around a big-hitting opponent and had trouble directing balls beyond the service line. The key to victory in Rome will be stepping into his shots and running Djokovic ragged from side to side—vintage Rafa.
Remind Himself Who He Is
The King of Clay! Unstoppable! Unbeatable! He should cough up the Serb's Madrid victory to a fluke and re-assert his dominance in the Foro Italico. If he can get out to a strong lead in the first set—something he didn't do at all last week—he'll be well on his way to yet another clay court title.
Sam Stosur: Can She Bring It on Serve?
What does Sam need to do to win?
It's the key to her game. Big first-serve aside, the Aussie's real prowess lies in the kicker—it bounces up high on the dirt, opening up a lot of court for her to belt a big forehand into. Stosur was full of confidence on her serve in the second set of her encounter with Li Na yesterday, so can she keep it up? Sharapova benefitted big time in the semis from a weak Wozniacki deliver—she'll have a lot harder time working her way into the Stosur service games in the final.
Love the Clay
Sharapova once said she moves like a "cow on ice" on clay. Considering Azarenka's retirement and Wozniacki's poor form, the Russian's pretty lucky to even be in the final. Stosur, meanwhile, has shown in the past two years just how big a force she can be on the terre batue. She needs to use her big topspin shots to move the Russian along the baseline, get into net when she can and remind herself that she is the better player on red clay.
Maria Sharapova: Can She Claim a Big Title Again?
What does Maria need to do to win?
Remember Her Record
The "Siberian Siren" holds an unblemished 7-0 record against her finals opponent. Stosur has only garnered 11 games in her last three matches with the Russian, and hasn't taken a set off her since 2005. This can only give the Sharapova confidence. She's got to forget that she's playing Stosur on red clay and approach the match like she did in Miami a couple months ago—when she waxed the Aussie in straight sets.
Keep the Errors Down
Since the start of her career, Sharapova has always come out guns a-blazin'. But since her post-shoulder surgery return to tour, her problems on court have come in the form of massive unforced error counts. She'll have to match power-for-power with Stosur, yet try to keep her wild shots in bounds to stand a chance.
No double faults. None. She's been serving decently so far this tournament, keeping the doubles down. Stosur's going to hold a lot, so it will be crucial that the Russian does too.