The tour is back on the red clay tomorrow in Rome, and for many players it’s a welcome return to tradition. Leading that charge are the top two (for now) players in the world and 2011 finalists Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. After a virtually wasted week in Madrid, Nadal and Djokovic will try to get back on track in Rome where a year ago the Serb won his second straight over Rafa on the clay.
While I think Nadal returns back to the Sunday final (and wins it), Djokovic remains a big question mark. Novak hasn’t done well in title defenses throughout his career and given his form I don’t think he gets it done this week either. Although his draw is again quite agreeable (like the surface). Djokovic could get Bernard Tomic in his opener, then perhaps the injury-laden Juan Monaco before a big showdown with Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinals. And I think I’m taking Del Potro to finally get that big, signature win this year (and he’ll likely prove me wrong again!).
The surging Roger Federer is located in the second quarter and after a rough road in Madrid he’s got an ready-made easy one in Rome. Roger could meet Gael Monfils in the third round before a rematch with Janko Tipsarevic in the quarterfinals. I’ll take the Serb over Stan Wawrinka and John Isner in that section so Federer shouldn’t have much of a problem unless he runs into Isner.
On the bottom, after skipping the blues in Madrid with an alleged back injury, Andy Murray returns and he won’t have it easy. David Nalbandian could be first then Richard Gasquet followed by David Ferrer. Murray was a semifinalist last year and I think he gets back to that spot again.
Nadal, who beat Murray in that epic final four encounter in 2011, might draw the rising Milos Raonic in his opener. Then Felicano Lopez followed by a quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych. It’s a difficult path but after the week he had in Madrid I think Rafa has a lot to prove and he gets back on track.
So my semifinals look like Del Potro-Federer and Murray-Nadal. And in the end I like Nadal to beat Federer in the final.
Also, Rome will determine the final seedings at the French Open, so we’ll keep an eye on that No. 2 ranking race between Federer and Nadal. My guess is if Federer wins Madrid and stays a round even with Nadal in Rome he’ll be the two seed in Paris.
The tournament starts Sunday with Roanic playing Florian Mayer. Tennis Channel’s coverage begins on Monday.
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