Thankfully, the dominant headline this week at the Rome Tennis Masters has been…TENNIS! That’s it. There’s been no controversies, no blue courts and no threat of boycotts. Sure, the Italian wind has been whipping and the nights do offer a chill, but after a maddening week in Madrid, the red clay and returned focus back on the sport in Rome has been more than welcome.
And while the tournament has gone largely to form, there’s been a few bits and bobs of mayhem. Promising Canadian Milos Raonic was stunned on Sunday by Florian Mayer, negating a showdown with Rafa. Andy Murray nearly got nipped by David Nalbandian yesterday in the match of the tournament to date. And today Roger Federer ended the rumors by deciding to play afterall. And it was a fortuitous move as the Swiss cruised past Carlos Berlocq in straight sets.
Former champion Rafael Nadal was also on court Wednesday and the Spaniard shook off the Madrid blues by taking it out on Mayer 6-1, 7-5. Nadal looked back to usual self punishing the ball and taking command from the ground against the unsettling German.
“Today it was an important first set and I played aggressive,” said Nadal. “I made a mistake in the first set and then I felt good in the forehand. It is difficult to play against Mayer because he knows how to put you in a difficult position in the game, but I didn’t suffer I think.”
Nadal and Federer is both in a battle not just for the title this week but also for the No. 2 seeding at the French Open. Both players deny it’s importance, but for Nadal to know he won’t face his nemesis Novak until the finals has to help.
Meanwhile, Federer’s fellow Madrid semifinalists Juan Martin Del Potro and Tomas Berdych both advanced. Though Janko Tipsarevic wasn’t as fortunate as the Serb was dropped in a mild upset by Stan Wawrinka.
Andreas Seppi also scored one for the home team eliminating American giant John Isner in three tough sets.
Tomorrow shapes up to be a monster day with the Top 7 men in third round play. Nadal meets compatriot Marcel Granollers; Federer faces former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero; Murray gets Richard Gasquet; Novak Djokovic draws the returning Juan Monaco and Del Potro clashes with JW Tsonga.
“I think I am playing well,” Del Potro said when asked to compare his level now to 2009 when he won the US Open. “After the tournament then I was 8 or 9 and now I am 7 or 6 that means I am doing well than 2009 my game is still improving so I am ready again to fight and play all the tournaments.”
If that’s not enough, the women’s schedule features both Williams sisters, Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova who faces Ana Ivanovic.
The women’s tournament suffered a blow when top ranked Victoria Azarenka oddly withdrew with a shoulder injury AFTER she beat Shahar Peer in the evening.
As for picks, I think the favorites win out including Sam Stosur over Venus. I like Del Potro over Tsonga and even Berdych to take out Nicolas Almagro in what might be the best match of the day – recall their feisty Australian Open duel!
Tennis Channel has live coverage of the men’s matches starting at 6am ET.
CENTRALE start 12:00 noon
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  J Monaco (ARG) – ATP
 S Stosur (AUS) vs [WC] V Williams (USA) – WTA
M Granollers (ESP) vs  R Nadal (ESP) – ATP
Not Before 7:30 PM
 A Ivanovic (SRB) vs  M Sharapova (RUS) – WTA
Not Before 9:00 PM
 R Federer (SUI) vs J Ferrero (ESP) – ATP
SUPERTENNIS ARENA start 11:00 am
S Cirstea (ROU) vs  P Kvitova (CZE) – WTA
 D Ferrer (ESP) vs  G Simon (FRA) – ATP
 R Gasquet (FRA) vs  A Murray (GBR) – ATP
C Scheepers (RSA) vs  N Li (CHN) – WTA – Possible Court Change
Not Before 7:00 PM
 J Del Potro (ARG) vs  J Tsonga (FRA) – ATP
Also Check Out:
For The Second Straight Year Victoria Azarenka Withdraws From Dubai
Rafael Nadal Withdraws from Paris Masters
Victoria Azarenka Withdraws From Dubai; Ankle Injuries All The Rage On The WTA
Back To Red: Can Nadal, Djokovic Regain Their Form In Rome?
Wozniacki Loses, Wraps Up No. 1; Sharapova Withdraws From WTA Champs