Now back on the familiar red clay, Novak Djokovic begins his Rome title defense Tuesday against young Australian Bernard Tomic. The 19-year-old Tomic eased past Santiago Giraldo in three windy sets to set up a second meeting with the Serb.
Last year en route to his maiden Wimbledon title Djokovic beat the teen in four sets. Almost 10 months later Tomic is 126 ranking sports higher at No. 32 while Djokovic is just 2-2 in his last four matches.
“Every year is different,” Djokovic said Sunday. “This year so far for me has been great and I have already won a Grand Slam in Miami and I have played in the finals and semi finals and other major events and so, obviously I set high standards for myself with 2011 how it was in the first six months but I never compare and I wanted really to focus on each and every tournament that I play on. Physically and mentally I am fine.. I am where I wanted to be. I am number one in the world and I am winning Grand Slams and I love the challenge and I will now have to work harder to stay where I am.”
Andy Murray will celebrate his 25th birthday by returning to play after resting a back injury during Madrid last week. The Scot will have a tough encounter Tuesday with Argentine veteran David Nalbandian. Murray has won four straight against Nalbandian (4-2), but this will be their first meeting on clay.
Murray, who has never reached clay final, reached the semifinals last year nearly upsetting Djokovic.
“I think that obviously have played 3 or 4 clay court event every year and they are all Master series or the French Open and so they are always the strongest events,. It is always a surface on which I struggle but I think last year I had some good results and this year,” Murray said. “I think that I am better that at the same stage last year and so I think that
this will help with certain things and being in better shape and being fitter will help get further in the events.”
Top contenders David Ferrer (v. Verdasco), Juan Martin Del Potro (v. Llodra) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (v. Troicki) are also in action.
The women are also sharing the spotlight this week in Rome. Tomorrow the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, are on the schedule as is Maria Sharapova.
Serena is coming off her 41st career title Sunday in Madrid, and the she’s won her last 13 matches plus she’s 13-0 in clay this season.
“I absolutely love clay. I grew up on clay – I played on hardcourt until I was 11, then until I turned 16 I only played on clay courts,” Serena said Sunday after her win over Victoria Azarenka. “I actually love the clay but my results haven’t been stellar. I have won the French Open and lots of clay court tournaments, though. It’s really a myth about me not liking clay. I like it more than grass, which is weird. Hopefully I can start doing better.”
Madrid semifinalist Sharapova meets rising American Christina McHale while Venus Williams, who is trying to bolster her ranking to qualify for the Olympics, takes on Simona Halep.
CENTRALE start 12:00 noon
C Mchale (USA) vs  M Sharapova (RUS) – WTA
L Kubot (POL) vs [WC] P Starace (ITA) – ATP
D Nalbandian (ARG) vs  A Murray (GBR) – ATP
Not Before 7:30 PM
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs B Tomic (AUS) – ATP
Not Before 9:00 PM
 S Williams (USA) vs G Voskoboeva (KAZ) – WTA
SUPERTENNIS ARENA start 11:00 am
 D Ferrer (ESP) vs F Verdasco (ESP) – ATP
 J Del Potro (ARG) vs M Llodra (FRA) – ATP
[WC] V Williams (USA) vs S Halep (ROU) – WTA
T Bacsinszky (SUI) vs S Errani (ITA) – WTA
Not Before 7:00 PM
V Troicki (SRB) vs  J Tsonga (FRA) – ATP
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Federer, Djokovic, Serena Romp In Rome; Nadal Opens Title Defense Wednesday
Federer Opens Clay Campaign v. Gulbis in Rome; Djokovic, Murray Also in Action