“Approach Shots” is Ricky’s weekly look at what’s ahead on the ATP Tour.
Rome is not simply a Masters 1000 event, but it is also the last before Roland Garros for most of the top players in the world. For some it is an opportunity to improve their seeding at the season’s second Grand Slam; for others it is a last chance to snag some much-needed momentum heading into Paris.
As such, it should come as no surprise that Rome boasts the best field of the three clay-court Masters tournaments. With Juan Martin Del Potro returning from illness, every one of the top 27 players in the world are in the draw. Not until 28th-ranked Florian Mayer are there any absentees. Will Monte-Carlo champion Novak Djokovic add another title to his 2013 resume and establish himself as the top favorite to win the French Open? Will Madrid winner Rafael Nadal make it two triumphs in two weeks and steal the No. 4 seed from David Ferrer. Will an outsider make a surprise run at the expense of a serious Roland Garros already shifting his focus to bigger and better and things? These questions, and more, will soon be answered inside the Foro Italico.
Internazionali BNL d’Italia
Where: Rome, Italy
Prize money: 2,646,495 Euros
Top seed: Novak Djokovic
Defending champion: Rafael Nadal
Draw analysis: Draws don’t get much more lopsided than this one; not with the undisputed two best clay-courters in the world on the same side of the bracket. Throw into the top half Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, and an on-fire Stanislas Wawrinka, and it is almost a joke.
This also means a big opportunity is awaiting Federer, who has played just two matches since Indian Wells (he beat Radek Stepanek last week in Madrid before being upset by Kei Nishikori). Rome is traditionally Federer’s worst of the three clay-court Masters events and he is still in search of his first title in Italy’s capital city. Although the third-ranked Swiss was lucky to avoid Nadal in his half, he will not necessarily have any kind of cakewalk through the bracket. Potential third-round opponents include Tommy Haas and Gilles Simon, both of whom have enjoyed some success against Federer in the past. Possible quarterfinal adversary Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is playing consistent tennis in 2013 and he reached the last eight in both Monte-Carlo and Madrid.
Similarly, Andy Murray has to be content with his situation in the bottom half. Murray would like to get additional clay-court matches under his belt prior to Roland Garros because he was blown out by Wawrinka in the Monte-Carlo third round before going down to Berdych in the Madrid quarterfinals. The second-ranked Scot will open with Marcel Granollers in Rome before a possible meeting with Madrid quarterfinalist Kei Nishikori in the last 16. On the other side of Murray’s quarter, either Del Potro or Nicolas Almagro could be in line for a big week. Should they face each other in the third round, the winner would have a very realistic shot at going all the way to Sunday’s final.
Their Monte-Carlo result notwithstanding, Djokovic cannot be too pleased to see Nadal as a possible semifinal opponent. Still, the rest of his draw may not be quite as bad as it looks at first glance. Wawrinka is in rare form at the moment, but he has played a ton of tennis over the last month and he will not want to further exhaust himself before a more important tournament later in May. Berdych, the likely quarterfinal opponent for Djokovic, is dangerous on any surface but it’s hard to imagine him upsetting the top-ranked Serb on clay based on their respective 2013 results.
Nadal’s trek through the Rome draw will likely garner the most headlines this week, unless he somehow loses early in the aftermath of a long but successful Madrid campaign. The fifth-ranked Spaniard will begin against an Italian—either Andreas Seppi or Fabio Fognini. Seppi benefited from absolutely insane crowd support on his way to last year’s quarterfinals. Ernests Gulbis, who qualified for the main draw and has tested Nadal in the past, could meet the fifth seed in round three. The battle for the French Open No. 4 seed could be decided in a Nadal-Ferrer quarterfinal showdown. Ferrer will get it if he beats Nadal or if Nadal fails to win the title under any circumstance. If Nadal beats Ferrer, he will be two matches away from stealing the four spot. Ferrer, though, will have a lot on his plate even before Friday’s potential all-Spanish showdown. The world No. 4 could kick off his campaign against Fernando Verdasco before a possible date with either Milos Raonic or Philipp Kohlschreiber.
First-round upset alert: Philipp Kohlschreiber over (14) Milos Raonic. The only previous encounter between Raonic and Kohlschreiber came early this season in round three of the Australian Open, where the Canadian cruised 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-4. On clay, however, Kohlschreiber will have a better chance of handling his opponent’s power. Raonic has been decent but unspectacular on clay this season, and he just split from coach Galo Blanco so that won’t help matters. Kohlschreiber was a semifinalist in Barcelona and the runner-up in Munich, plus he will be well-rested after skipping Madrid last week.
Also watch out for Carlos Berlocq against Wawrinka in addition to Youzhny against Haas. Wawrinka has played 10 matches in the last 11 days, so he has to be fatigued. Additionally, Berlocq is an outstanding clay-court player. Haas should get the job done against Youzhny, but the Russian advanced two rounds in Madrid (upsetting Almagro in the process) so his confidence is building.
Hot: Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer, Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Tommy Haas, Stanislas Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Kevin Anderson, Fabio Fognini, Tommy Robredo
Cold: Roger Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro, Janko Tipsarevic, Martin Klizan, Fernando Verdasco, Andrey Golubev, Jeremy Chardy, Julien Benneteau, Feliciano Lopez, Marcel Granollers, Radek Stepanek, Potito Starace
Quarterfinal predictions: Novak Djokovic over Tomas Berdych, Rafael Nadal over David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro over Kei Nishikori, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga over Tommy Haas
Semifinals: Djokovic over Nadal and Almagro over Tsonga
Final: Djokovic over Almagro
Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!
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|1. Djokovic||12 500 pts|
|2. Murray||8 750 pts|
|3. Federer||8 670 pts|
|4. Ferrer||6 970 pts|
|5. Nadal||6 385 pts|
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