Novak Djokovic
Can Djokovic fend off Zverev challenge today in Rome? Reuters

Just when it was looking like Rafael Nadal was going to sweep the honours on clay this season, the 14-time Grand Slam winner was ousted by his familiar foe Dominic Thiem in the quarter-final last week at Rome Masters.

To add more spice to proceedings, Novak Djokovic, who had been struggling to hit peak form in the new season with only one title at Doha, produced his best tennis, decimating Nadal-slayer Thiem 6-1, 6-0, hours after brushing aside Juan Martin del Potro in a rain-interupted quarter-final on Saturday, to set up a meeting with NextGen star Alexander Zverev in the title match on Sunday.

Djokovic revealed that yesterday's demolition of Thiem, who had reached three final matches on the trot this clay season, was his "best by far" after his win over Andy Murray in the season-opening Doha final. The Serbian was relieved and overwhelmed with his performance, weeks after he parted ways with his coaching staff in a bid to hit peak form again.

The four-time Rome champion will now be eyeing to clinch glory and be at his best frame of mind ahead of his title defence at the French Open later this month. Despite having not faced Zverev in the past, Djokovic will start as favourite to win a fifth crown in Italy.

On the other hand, Zverev, the 20-year-old German, has been impressively consistent in the ongoing season. The world number 21 opened the season with a bang at the Australian Open, in which he pushed Nadal to the limits in the quarter-final before going down 4-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2.

Zverev also started the clay season well with a title in Munich and went on to reach the quarter-final in Madrid before he booked a place in his first ever Masters 1000 final in the ongoing tournament. While the odds are against him, it will be interesting to see if aggressive base-liner can come up with a challenge and make life difficult for the Serbian legend today.