It now seems inevitable that Novak Djokovic will finally surpass Rafael Nadal and claim the No. 1 ranking toward the end of the clay court season or as they battle on the grass in June-July. Djokovic beat Nadal on Sunday in the thrilling Madrid final, ending the Spaniard’s 37-match win streak on clay in Spain, and extending his 2011 record to an amazing 34-0.
Now the two take their two-man show to Rome and the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. Did I saw two-man show? Former No. 1 Roger Federer, who took the first set off Nadal in the Madrid semifinals before his level eventually diminished, will be trying to prove that he is still relevant, and still a threat to once again take the No. 1 ranking.
On the women’s side the talking points are — who is going to win this week? Because seemingly anybody can win. No one can maintain a roll. Caroline Wozniacki remains No. 1, but no one stands out in a field full of hungry wanna-bes, and lacking the injured power players such as the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters (Justine, isn’t it time for another retirement comeback? Martina? Jennifer?).
Here is how the draws break down in Rome, starting with the men:
TOP QUARTER (1) Rafael Nadal, (6) David Ferrer, (11) Mardy Fish, (13) Mikhail Youzhny
Floaters: Thomaz Bellucci, Feliciano “F-Lo” Lopez, Michael Llodra, Ivan Ljubicic, Marin Cilic, “Dr.” Ivo Karlovic
Notes: The top quarter is floater city. Tough openers include Nadal vs. the Bellucci (Q) Paolo Lorenzi winner, F-Lo vs. Llodra, and the all-Croat Cilic vs. Karlovic (winner to face Ferrer). Nadal could face Bellucci, then F-Lo, then Ferrer in the quarters. Lots of popcorn matches right out of the gate.
2ND QUARTER (3) Roger Federer, (7) Tomas Berdych, (10) Gael “Force” Monfils, (16) Richard Gasquet
Floaters: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Notes: Fed after a bye gets Tsonga, and you never know what you’re going to get there. Could float like a butterfly, could get swatted like a bee. Fed vs. Gasquet in the 3rd round would be entertaining, and then Fed against his nemesis Berdych next round.
3RD QUARTER (4) Andy Murray, (8) Jurgen “Tuna” Melzer, (12) Andy Roddick, (15) Viktor Troicki
Floaters: John Isner, Gilles Simon, Nikolay Davydenko, Guillermo “G-Lo” Garcia-Lopez
Notes: This is the sad sack quarter. The confidence is not high for Murray or Roddick, who last week lost to a player without a clothing sponsorship. Isner and Roddick could meet second round, but don’t count on A-Rod getting past the Frenchman Simon in his opener. G-Lo also has an opportunity if he can get past his opener against Xavier “X-Man” Malisse, and then he gets Murray. Troicki gets a tough draw against Davydenko, who could find his draw opening up in the Murray section. All bets are off for the seeds in this quarter.
BOTTOM QUARTER (2) Novak Djokovic, (5) Robin Soderling, (9) Nicolas Almagro, (14) Stan Wawrinka
Floaters: Fernando “Hot Sauce” Verdasco
Notes: How much gas does Djokovic have left in the tank? He will benefit from a first-round bye, then an opener against either (Q) Pablo Cuevas or (Q) Lukasz Kubot. Soderling will have to earn it from the start, after a bye facing either the Canadian Milos Raonic or Verdasco. Djokovic could cruise until the quarters when he would probably face either Soderling or Hot Sauce.
Last year Nadal won his fifth Rome title over the past six years, beating Ferrer.
WOMEN’S DRAWIn the women’s draw the Top 8 seeds also receive byes, going to Caroline Wozniacki, Francesca Schiavone, Victoria Azarenka, Na Li, Jelena Jankovic, Sam Stosur, Maria Sharapova and Aggie Radwanska.
The top-seeded Wozniacki could face a photo-snapping third-round encounter against former French Open champion, No. 1, and No. 13-seeded Ana Ivanovic, if the Serb can get by a couple obstacles, including her opener against big-hitting veteran Nadia Petrova. Also in the top quarter Jankovic will likely start after a bye against Lucie Safarova, and is looking at fellow seed Marion Bartoli in the quarters.
Azarenka, the runner-up last week in Madrid, and Sharapova are slated to meet in the quarterfinals of the 2nd quarter. Li is the top seed in the third quarter, but is not likely to successfully exit her section of the draw with potential opponents Flavia Pennetta, and likely Radwanska or Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarters.
Schiavone, the defending French Open champion who has been having some problems starting her engine during the dirt season, is the top seed in the bottom quarter. She will likely start against Chinese banger Shuai Peng, with Sam Stosur or Andrea Petkovic waiting in the quarters.
Last year Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez won the title, beating Schiavone, Wozniacki, and Ivanovic en route to the final where she defeated Jankovic.
TENNIS-X NEWS, NOTES, QUOTES AND BARBS
Since the ATP Rankings started in 1973 and the WTA Rankings started in 1975, U.S. men and women dominated the rankings. In the ’70s and ’80s, many times half of the Top 10 were made up of Americans. But American tennis hits an all-time low this week when, for the first time, no American men or women will number in the Top 10. Panic time for the United States Tennis Association and the U.S. tennis academies/prisons that are supposed to be pumping out future champions. Those factories are shut down…David Nalbandian, out of action approximately two months after his hernia operation, is so slim he is almost unrecognizable…Doughy American teenager Coco Vandeweghe now has a full-time fitness trainer in Chuck Williams: “A lot of people were telling me I was out of shape and that was tough for me because I’m a young girl and I was working so hard on and off the court,” said Vandeweghe, who has dropped 10 pounds. “I wasn’t eating right and now I have a different workout plan.”…Claudio Pistolesi lasted just five months as Robin Soderling’s latest coach, reportedly splitting on differences of opinion…Austrian Stefan Koubek retired. The 34-year-old lefthander reached a career-high of No. 20 in 2000, but is currently ranked No. 261, and wouldn’t be able to compete in the main draw at the French or Wimbledon. “I wanted to play Roland Garros and Wimbledon one more time, but I won’t make it,” Koubek said. “Once you’ve decided to quit, you lose your motivation.” He won three career singles titles and was 3-3 in career finals…The South African Open after three years on the ATP calendar has reportedly been shut out of the 2012 ATP calendar…Rafael Nadal shed some tears prior to his Madrid semifinal match with Roger Federer when an homage to Seve Ballesteros, who passed this weekend, was played. Nadal wore a black ribbon pinned to his shirt in tribute during the match.
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