Another week on the clay and another title for Rafael Nadal, what’s new? On Sunday Nadal thumped his countryman David Ferrer 6-2, 7-5 to win his fifth straight Barcelona title.
The victory was Nadal’s 35th career ATP title (he’s more than halfway to Pete Sampras!) and his 24th on his favorite dirt surface.
But that was Barcelona, and now for me comes the real pre-French test, Rome. It was last year when Nadal suffered his lone clay setback falling to Juan Carlo Ferrero. Nadal was plagued by blisters back then and one has to wonder, with all the tennis the Spaniard’s play of late just how healthy he really is.
That said, I think someone, somehow gets Nadal this week at the Foro Italico. Will it be Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, or even Andy Murray? Well, let’s go to the draw…
Nadal actually has a very dangerous draw, if the event was play on hardcourt! But of course it isn’t and I fully expect the top-seed and three-time Rome champ to ease into the quarterfinals, and that’s where I think he slips on the slippery Italian dirt. The second section of Nadal’s quarter is stocked with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v. Richard Gasquet, Nicolas Almagro v. Ernests Gulbis (remember him?) plus Igor Andreev and Fernando Verdasco. My pick to emerge is Verdasco and I think he’ll beat his countryman Nadal in the quarters.
The second quarter looks for all the World like we are headed for another Andy Murray-Nikolay Davydenko clash. Murray may have to deal with Marin Cilic in the 16s, but I like the Scot there. Davydenko has a tougher road with Fernando Gonzalez in the third round but the Russian owns Gonzo. And in that quarterfinal match I’m going to back Murray, but not very confidently.
The bottom half top quarter is going to be a war in the 16s with Juan Martin Del Potro v. Stan Wawrinka, and Novak Djokovic v. Tommy Robredo. In the end I think Novak gets through and beats Stan in a rematch of the 2008 finals.
The last quarter features the now-fallen Federer. Will this be the week the Swiss breaks his title drought? I doubt it. Luckily Federer was given a relatively easy early few rounds with Radek Stepanek in the third round before he gets the resurgent David Ferrer. Federer, though, has dominated Ferrer losing only one set in eight career meetings with the Spaniard, but I somehow think that changes this week leaving us with two Spaniards in the semifinal, neither of whom named Nadal. Can it be?
My semifinals are Verdasco v. Murray and Djokovic v. Ferrer which on paper (or on my screen) looks exceptionally odd. Almost too odd. And for my winner…Ah, to hell with it, I’m taking Nadal to beat Novak in the final. Rafa’s not losing on dirt. And he lost in Rome last year so he’s got some extra motivation. Don’t fight the tape is what the say on Wall Street and I’m applying that here. Don’t fight Rafa, especially on the clay. Is there a surer thing in tennis? Doubt it.
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