Three to See, Rome: Venus takes on Konta; Nadal and Sock sqaure off

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The seventh-ranked Konta is 3-1 against the 12th-ranked Williams, and has won their last three meetings. (AP)

Each day this week, we'll preview and predict three must-see matches at the Italian Open.

Venus Williams [9] vs. Johanna Konta [5]

The 26-year-old Konta grew up idolizing the 36-year-old Venus, but over the last two years she has passed her in the rankings and in their head to head. The seventh-ranked Konta is 3-1 against the 12th-ranked Williams, and has won their last three meetings. Two of those matches have gone three sets, and considering that neither of these women has a distinct advantage over the other on clay, this one could be equally close.

Winner: Williams

Rafael Nadal [4] vs. Jack Sock [13]

There will be ... rotations. Of the ball, that is: Nadal and Sock make it spin more viciously than just about anyone in the game’s history. At the moment, Nadal is also hitting the ball as well as anyone in the sport, while Sock is still trying to find the clay-court spark this spring. We’ll see if his long match with Jiri Vesely on Wednesday—Sock won in a third-set tiebreaker—has any effect on him on Thursday against Rafa, who played just three games against Nicolas Almagro before Almagro was forced to retire. But while Nadal is 3-0 against Sock—and he won their match in Miami last month, 6-2, 6-3—the American has taken a set from him in both of their other meetings, one of which was on dirt. He could surprise Rafa and take another one here.

Winner: Nadal

Fabio Fognini vs. Alexander Zverev [16]

The match between Juan Martin del Potro and Kei Nishikori is higher profile, but this one should be more fun. Fognini had a breakthrough of sorts in his last match; after regularly crumbling before the home fans at the Foro Italico—he was 5-9 in Rome coming into the tournament—he played one of the best matches of his career in shredding world No. 1 Andy Murray in straight sets. Zverev, the champion in Munich and a quarterfinalist in Madrid, has been playing better tennis than Murray of late, but the German has never faced the Italian, and he has never faced him in front of Italian fans. They may finally be helping Fognini play better instead of worse.

Winner: Fognini

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