The one-handed backhand is alive and thriving, with Tommy Haas, Tommy Robredo and Stanislas Wawrinka all winning titles in recent weeks. Here, two more fluid one-handers square off in what should be a shotmaking showcase.
The first set could be critical—Dimitrov is 15-1 when winning the first set this year and 1-9 when losing it; Gasquet is 19-2 and 4-5, respectively—so playing with urgency at the outset will be vital. Look for Gasquet to try to corner Dimitrov in backhand exchanges, while the Bulgarian will want to impose his forehand and work the front court to exploit the Frenchman’s deep court positioning.
Dimitrov impressed in Madrid with an inspired upset of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. I believe Dimitrov will be a Top 10 player some day, but he must get stronger and learn to play complete matches on a consistent basis. Gasquet has a good track record in Rome—he beat Andy Murray to reach the quarterfinals last year, and edged Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych in succession en route to the 2011 semifinals—and should be eager for a win after an opening-round exit in Madrid.
The Pick: Gasquet in three sets
These two power players share some similar characteristics: Both can dictate play behind ferocious first serves, both will rip their returns, both have had success on clay—Lisicki won the 2009 Charleston title; Kvitova was the 2011 Madrid champion and a 2012 Roland Garros semifinalist—and both swing so big that when their timing is a bit off, shots can sail and streakiness strikes.
The 34th-ranked Lisicki is a little bit quicker around the court and has already gotten her feet dirty on the Rome clay, powering past Mallory Burdette, 6-1, 6-2, just weeks after the American upset her in Charleston. Landing the first serve will be imperative, as both women step in the court and crunch returns off second serves.
Both women are explosive players, but I think Kvitova has more weapons and is dangerous from more areas of the court. When she’s timing the ball well, Kvitova steps into the court, attacks the ball, and takes time away from her opponents. I see her advancing.
The Pick: Kvitova in three sets
(13) Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Youzhny
ddddDDHead-to-head: Tied, 3-3
The Eternal City is an appropriate meeting place for two veterans with enduring passion that have combined to win more than 900 matches. These two have been around so long their first meeting came 11 years ago in Munich, when the prominent Spanish lefty in the field was Francisco Clavet.
Both men can play all-court tennis, both possess variation off their one-handed backhands to change up the spins and speeds of rallies, both are willing to explore the entire court and can drive the backhand down the line, and both have been committed to the cause in past meetings—four of their six clashes have gone the distance.
The 30-year-old Youzhny doesn’t own an imposing shot, but he’s sound in all areas of the game and is usually adept at making mid-match adjustments. Haas was runner-up to Andre Agassi here in 2002, yet is winless in Rome since that loss. But the 35-year-old German has played decisive tennis in winning 10 of his last 13 matches, including capturing the Munich title last month.
The Pick: Haas in two sets