Rafael Nadal: 'I arrived in Rome with no high expectations. I need matches to..'

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Rafael Nadal: 'I arrived in Rome with no high expectations. I need matches to..'

The 19-time Major champion Rafael Nadal will hit the court again on Wednesday at the Rome Masters 1000 event, entering the first tournament since Acapulco in February! Spending the previous six months at home in Mallorca, Nadal has been practicing on clay at his Academy, deciding to skip Cincinnati and the US Open while keeping 2000 points claimed in New York a year ago.

Adding the finishing touches on the practice court with Grigor Dimitrov, Nadal arrived in Rome last Wednesday, chasing the third straight crown at Foro Italico and second title of the season. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Rome will be the second Masters 1000 event of the year, gathering a strong field of competitors but not the crowd.

The organizers have decided to host the event with no spectators, following health rules and taking care of everything to produce a safe tennis week. The last year's finalists and the world's leading players Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are the leaders of the pack, with Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev all skipping Rome after a deep US Open run.

Nadal and Djokovic have been the dominant figures in Rome since 2005, sharing 13 of the last 15 Rome trophies and hoping to play another final next Monday. With 61 victories from 67 encounters in Rome, Nadal has been the player to beat in the Italian capital, making a winning debut in 2005 in that memorable final against Guillermo Coria and experiencing only four exits before the final.

In the last year's final, Nadal defeated Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1, defending the title and adding the 34th Masters 1000 crown to his tally. Beating Novak for the first time in a year, Nadal grabbed the first crown since Canada 2018, getting back on track on the beloved surface after three straight semi-final losses in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

Rafael Nadal will compete for the first time since February in Rome.

Competing in the milestone 50th Masters 1000 final, Rafa dominated in sets one and three to find himself over the top, with Novak giving his best to overcome a terrible start and a bagel.

In the end, the Spaniard played against only two break chances, suffering one break and creating 17 opportunities on the return, converting six to control the scoreboard and secure the 81st ATP title! In 2020, Nadal has won 13 out of 16 matches, losing in the Australian Open's quarter-final and winning the title in Dubai.

The nine-time Rome winner has no high expectations this week, opening the campaign against the US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta and hoping to find the rhythm and play as many matches as possible after such a long break.

"Rome is always exciting; it's one of the most important events in the world. At the same time, it will not be the same with no crowd and, being in the bubble, not enjoying spending time in the city. But we still have a tournament here in Rome; that's positive news, and I'm happy about that.

I arrived here early to have time for practice, but you still need matches to feel 100%. I'm excited about competing again, without big expectations. I know I have a tough first match against Pablo; he's playing great, and will be a good test.

My expectation is always to try to feel competitive; that's the first goal. Go on the court, feel competitive, and then I will see how I feel and what kind of goals I can look for," Rafael Nadal said.