After a much-deserved few weeks of rest, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic returns to action next week in Rome for what will be his final tune-up before the all-important French Open. Joining Djokovic are his Big Four colleagues Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and even Roger Federer who decided to play the event following a disappointing showing in Madrid.
On to the draw.
The way Djokovic’s has been playing of late – sweeping all the top-tier events the last six months – he doesn’t need a good draw, but as defending champion they gave him one anyway. Spaniards Nicolas Almagro in the second round, Roberto Bautista Agut in the third before things get interesting with Kei Nishikori in the quarters. But if Nishikori continues his run in Madrid, might he be tapped out by that Djokovic meeting? I have to think so. Before then, Kei could meet the entertaining 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios in the third round. But the youngster has quite a draw with Feliciano Lopez to start then maybe a showdown with countryman Bernard Tomic in the second.
The pick: Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray and David Ferrer are the strong favorites in the second quarter, the weakest of the three sections. Marin Cilic is in there as are Jeremy Chardy and JW Tsonga, but I don’t see anyone standing in the way of a Andy-David duel, unless Lukas Rosol actually fights Murray in the second round! Wow! And should Andy and David meet, I’ll take Murray’s variety over Ferrer’s clay experience. Murray’s done well this clay season while Ferrer just isn’t getting those wins like he was before. Maybe age is finally catching up with him.
The pick: Andy Murray
We’ll see how Rafa goes this weekend in Madrid, and if things go well I think that should carry over to Rome. Nadal has a decent draw with Adrian Mannarino a likely opener, then some danger with John Isner before a quarterfinal encounter perhaps with friend Juan Monaco who I think beats the struggling Stan Wawrinka. So it’s a really nice section for Rafa who depending on Madrid, might be fighting for his French Open seeding life. Maybe Isner gets hot and steals a set, but otherwise Nadal should coast to the semifinals.
The pick: Rafael Nadal
Now the fun begins. With Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer, Fabio Fognini, Phil Kohlschreiber and Grigor Dimitrov, this is the most competitive quadrant of the draw. Right now I like Berdych. He’s playing solid, consistent tennis while Federer just doesn’t seem to have “it” on the clay anymore. So I think the big Czech takes out the languishing Grigor and then gets Federer in the quarters. Roger though has a tough draw with perhaps Pablo Cuevas then Phil Kohlschreiber. So no certainty the Swiss even makes it that far.
The pick: Tomas Berdych
My semifinals: Djokovic d. Murray (not Nishikori!); Nadal d. Berdych
Murray can’t beat Novak on hardcourts anymore, so how is he going to do it on clay? Nope. Then it’s a toss-up between Rafa and Tomas. I originally took Tomas but deleted it and went with Rafa.
Final: Djokovic d. Nadal
Until he consistently shows me that Rafa of old – deep balls, pop on the serve, few errors – I have to take Novak.
So while the Big Four return, there are notable absentees. There’s no Milos Raonic who’s got a foot problem. Gael Monfils is also not in the draw and Juan Martin Del Potro is nowhere to be found. Looks like the Argentine will sadly miss another clay season.
Matches begin on Sunday. Tennis Channel will have the coverage starting Monday. And remember, for the players Rome is their last chance to adjust their French Open seedings! Can Rafa stay in the Top 4?
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