The king will look to return to his kingdom with a performance befitting of his majesty when Rafael Nadal takes on Italy’s Simone Bolelli. It has been another excellent clay court season for the world #1, despite a slip up in Madrid costing him his place at the top of the rankings for a week. That aside, he won in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome and is in pole position to secure Roland Garros title number eleven. But can Bolelli throw an early spanner in the works?
Nadal and Bolelli have met five times so far in their careers and it is not a match up that has favoured the Italian, who has lost them all. Their first meeting came in 2009 in Rotterdam, in the round of 32. Bolelli played well to win the first set, but thereafter was overpowered by Nadal who won 4-6 6-2 7-5. Since then, Nadal has been dominant, not dropping another set in four victories, which included a first round triumph in Paris in 2012 and a 6-2 6-2 win in Madrid in 2015, their most recent clash.
Last time out
Nadal sealed an eighth Italian Open triumph in a hard-fought match against Alexander Zverev, one in which he may have been thankful to the weather gods. After a fast start, Nadal found himself a set to the good. But Zverev levelled the match equally as quickly, taking the game to the Spaniard in a way he proved unable to live with. Zverev broke first in the decider, before rain called a halt to play. On the resumption the magic abandoned him and Nadal wrested away the win, claiming the title 6-1 1-6 6-3.
Bolelli did not compete in the singles in Rome, but he did play doubles with Fabio Fognini, losing in the first round to the all-Argentine pair of Juan Martin del Potro and Leonardo Mayer. The Italian next travelled to Paris to compete in the Roland Garros qualifiers. He began well, defeating former world #5 Tommy Robredo in the first round and defeating Yasutaka Uchiyama in the second, both in straight sets. But Santiago Giraldo crushed him in the final round, leaving Bolelli to enter the main draw as a lucky loser after Dolgopolov’s retirement.
How do they match up?
Nadal has a game built to dominate on clay. The Spaniard moves better than almost anyone else on the surface, particularly at Roland Garros, where the huge court on Philippe Chatrier makes him almost impossible to hit through. The very best have tried for over a decade and only twice succeeded in knocking the Spaniard of his perch. Part of the reason for that, is Nadal is able to hit through them, with his forehand the most dangerous weapon in an extensive arsenal.
Bolelli is a reliable and experienced clay courter. The Italian is not blessed with massive power from either his forehand or backhand side, but both are typically reliable. However, he will need to play his backhand particularly well as it is sure to come under a stern examination from the Nadal forehand, one that many one-handers fail. Bolelli will also surely need to serve well to keep Nadal on the backfoot as much as possible in this match.
The withdrawal of Alexandr Dolgopolov may have slightly disrupted Nadal’s plans ahead of this match, but not dramatically. The Spaniard must feel confident that he can beat anyone at Roland Garros, and he has played Bolelli enough times that he will not be in for too many surprises when they take to the court. After the sort of tennis Nadal has been playing this clay court season, there seems only one possible winner from this one. Nadal in straight sets.