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Rafael Nadal's Harrowing Win vs. Gulbis Will Precede Loss to Novak Djokovic

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IMay 16, 2013

ROME, ITALY - MAY 16:  Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates match point against Ernests Gulbis of Latvia in their third round match during day five of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2013 at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre on May 16, 2013 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal was rolling right along in 2013 before he met world No. 46 Ernests Gulbis on Thursday in the third round of the Rome Masters.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic has been rising.

It sets up a loss for Nadal in the semifinals.

Sure, the fact that Nadal lost the first set against Gulbis on Thursday before battling back down the stretch doesn't automatically project gloom and doom. But this has more to do with Djokovic's form lately than Nadal's.

Keep in mind, Djokovic was coming off an injury when he lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the second round of the Madrid Open. It's not an excuse for his loss against Dimitrov; it's more of an explanation. 

Since his bye in the first round of the Rome Masters, Djokovic has roared back in convincing fashion, even if it has been against lesser foes. After going down in the first set to Albert Montanes in the second round, 2-1, he won 11 of the next 13 games. He then beat Alexandr Dolgopolov in the third round, 6-1, 6-4.

In the win over Dolgopolov, Djokovic won 73 percent of service points, via ATPWorldTour.com. The Serb also saved three of three break points.

Djokovic's rise in 2011 was in large part due to a much-improved serving game, overshadowed by his dominant return game. He ranked 23rd on tour in service games won (percentage) in 2010, via ATPWorldTour.com. He ranked seventh in the department in 2011. He ranked sixth in 2012. Headed into the Rome Masters, he ranked sixth in service games won this year.

Djokovic Service Game Since 2009

Year Service Games Won (%) ATP Tour Rank
2010 82 23
2011 86 7
2012 87 6
2013 87 6

Nadal lost on clay in Monte Carlo against Djokovic this year, proving that the edge he once had on the surface isn't as prominent. 

In the quarterfinals of the 2013 Rome Masters, I expect Nadal to beat David Ferrer, and I expect Djokovic to beat Tomas Berdych, setting up a semifinals clash between the two historic players.

In the semifinals, expect Djokovic to defeat the reigning champion in Rome, avenging his loss in the final last year.

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