Springing Eternal

Sunday, May 11, 2014 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

Are you ready to do it again? Even as all eyes were on the final in Madrid on Sunday, significant developments took place in Rome on the men's side over the weekend. I’m not talking about the first-round matches that were played at the Foro Italico, though there were plenty of those. I’m talking about the jam-packed practice session featuring Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic, who is hoping to make his return after a week away with a wrist injury. I’m also talking about the news that Roger Federer, in something of a surprise, is planning to make the trip and play the tournament a week after becoming a father for the second—or is that fourth?—time. 

That should be enough to make Rome feel a little different from, and maybe a little more weighty than, Madrid. Here’s a look at how the men's draw might shake out.

*****

First Quarter

The question, as I asked in my Racquet Reaction on the Madrid final, is how much confidence Rafael Nadal will be able to take from winning a match in which he was thoroughly outplayed by Kei Nishikori. Yes, Rafa is back in the winner’s circle, but he was also two games from losing for the fourth time this season to a player who had never beaten him before. There's obviously work to do.

A more definite positive for Nadal is that he’s coming back to Rome, where he's 41-2 with seven titles. His draw through the quarterfinals is also something less than terrifying. He’ll start against either Gilles Simon or Filippo Volandri, might play Mikhail Youzhny or Fernando Verdasco after that, and is scheduled to face a stagnating Andy Murray in the quarters.

Already Gone: Ninth seed John Isner, to Jurgen Melzer. Put that together with Sam Querrey’s loss in qualifying on Sunday and the U.S. men’s campaign in Rome is over before it began.

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Murray lost to Marcel Granollers in the second round here last year; he could play Granollers in the second round again.

Semifinalist: Nadal

*****

Second Quarter

Last week, with his defeat at the hands of Dominic Thiem, we found out that Stan Wawrinka has not turned into a completely different player and person 11 years into his career. There will be big wins, but there will almost certainly still be surprising losses. Stan reached the final in Rome in 2008; whether or not that means he “thrives” in the Eternal City, I don’t know, but his draw looks tolerable this time. He’ll start against either Paolo Lorenzi, a wild card, or Pere Riba, a qualifier. The highest seed in his half is Tommy Haas, who will have his hands full in the first round with local hero Andreas Seppi.

Three names stick out on the other side of this quarter: Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov, and Roberto Bautista Agut. Last week Berdych came back from a set down to beat Dimitrov, while Baustista Agut reached the semis. Berdych and the still-unseeded RBA could play in the second round.

First-round match to watch: Haas vs. Seppi

Figure of Curiosity: Bautista Agut. How good is he going to be? He competes well, that much seems clear.

Semifinalist: Wawrinka

*****

Third Quarter

Does Milos Raonic deserve to be the eighth seed in Rome? It doesn’t feel right, but there’s not much that can be done now; the two players who were seeded right below him, Isner and Kei Nishikori, are both out of the tournament.

Raonic reaps the benefits of his position; first he gets a bye, then he has a friendly opener against either Simone Bolelli or Stefano Traveglia. After that, he might face 11th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Jo's ranking has tumbled to No. 14.

The top seed on the other side is Roger Federer. A runner-up here in 2013, he elected to come back early to try to defend his points; the last time he surprised us with his presence, in Monte Carlo, he made the final. Federer will open against his friend, Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you: Fabio Fognini vs. Lukas Rosol. It would be logical to predict that Fognini will do well at home, except for the fact that he never has before. He’s 3-6 in Rome and has never been past the second round.

First-round match to watch: Tsonga vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov. The last time they played, in 2012 in Madrid, Dolgo won in a third-set tiebreaker. Only one of their five matches hasn’t gone the distance.

Semifinalist: Federer

*****

Fourth Quarter

Novak Djokovic does appear to be progressing. Last week he didn't make the trip to Madrid; on Sunday he was in Rome, on court, hitting balls. Next step for the two-time Italian Open champion is a possibly testy first-round match against Radek Stepanek. Here’s hoping we see Nole without a bandage on his wrist for that one. If he gets past Stepanek, he may have to hit a lot of balls against Tommy Robredo in the next round.

Of the four quarters, this qualifies as the most difficult, because David Ferrer is also in it. Ferrer will try to put his disappointment of losing to Nishikori in Madrid behind him against Mikhail Kukushkin. After that, Ferrer may have to reprise his close two-set win over Ernests Gulbis from last week. 

Already out: Jerzy Janowicz, to Philipp Kohlschreiber. Jerzy is beyond reeling; he's lost nine in a row.

Semifinalist: Djokovic

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Semifinals: Nadal d. Wawrinka; Djokovic d. Federer

Final: Nadal d. Djokovic

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