After a disappointing Madrid event, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will look to get their games back to form in the final tune-up before the French Open. With the addition of Juan Martin Del Potro, the Rome field is fully loaded but we know who the man to beat is: Rafael Nadal.
And for the second straight week the Tennis Gods have smiled upon Nadal, and frowned on poor David Ferrer. Arguably the third best claycourt on the planet, Ferrer will have to beat the Top 2 – Nadal and DJokovic – just to reach the final! Ferrer once again drew Rafa in his quarter but will have to deal with an impreoving Fernando Verdasco and Milos Raonic before then. Nadal’s little section should be a breeze. He’ll play the Italian champ between Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini – in his opener, then I’ll say Jarkko Nieminen before running over Ferrer to reach the semifinals.
In that semi Nadal has drawn the top seeded Djokovic. The Serb though will likely have the surging Stan Wawrinka in the third then Tomas Berdych in the quarters. An upset by Wawrinka wouldn’t surprise me, but I think Novak, after a poor outing in Madrid, gets his game and ankle back on track. Of anyone in the field with so much at stake in Paris, he’s really got the most to prove on the ginger ankle of his.
In the bottom half, Federer, who’s never won Rome, has a great draw. He’ll probably get Radek Stepanek again, then possibly Tommy Haas. Roger could lose that but I think he wont. Then I’ll take Tsonga to come out of a tough section that includes Mr. Sharapova Grigor Dimitrov, Jerzy Janowicz, Richard Gasquet and Sam Querrey. On these faster courts in Rome, the big hitters can and often do play well – didn’t Pete Sampras once win Rome? So I give Tsonga a real, real chance against Roger. But I think Federer gets by one more hurdle. Maybe.
Andy Murray and Del Potro headline a very wide open third quarter. You could make a case for five different guys getting through. Along with Murray and DelPo, there’s Nicolas Almagro, Juan Monaco and Nikolay Davydenko. But if Del Potro is healthy and fit, I think it’s him. Murray has never been to a clay final and I just don’t sense that urgency and intent on this surface from the Scot. But he’s capable. Del Potro’s played well this year and a big result this week could really set him up nicely for a deep Paris run.
So as of now, my semifinals look like Djokovic v. Nadal, Del Potro v Federer. In the final, I’ll take Nadal over Del Potro. There’s a reason Rafa’s lost just twice in nine years at the event. It’s too close to Paris to let down now.
Matches begin on Sunday with Dimitrov and Querrey v. Gasquet.
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