Rome could bring us the most important pre-Paris match—Nadal vs. Thiem

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What if Dominic Thiem was to beat Rafael Nadal twice in this year's French Open lead-up? (AP)

While Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem were still in Madrid on Sunday, the rest of the ATP tour was already in action, or preparing for action, in Rome. The frenzy at the Foro Italico will begin in earnest on Monday, so here’s a quick look ahead at what we can expect from the draw—it could bring us the most important men’s match in the lead-up to the French Open.

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First Quarter

What’s the “most important” match I’m referring to above? That would be the potential quarterfinal between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem. It’s one thing for Rafa to lose to an opponent once during the clay season; he’s done that plenty of times, only to turn things back around Roland Garros. He did it to Thiem himself last season. But losing to someone twice? That could make things legitimately interesting in Paris. Which is why Rafa probably won’t let it happen.

First-round match to watch: Tomas Berdych vs. Denis Shapovalov

Semifinalist: Nadal

Thiem falls to Zverev in Madrid final:

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Second Quarter

Novak Djokovic has always liked Rome. He’s won the tournament four times, recorded three wins over Nadal there, and, even during a dismal 2017, he managed to reach the final. Which means, of course, that he has points to defend and a ranking to protect this time around. Djokovic will start defending them on Monday against Alexandr Dolgopolov. The first seed he could face is John Isner.

Potential second-round match to watch: Grigor Dimitrov vs. Kei Nishikori

Semifinalist: Nishikori

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Third Quarter

Last week Kevin Anderson reached the first Masters semifinal of his 10-year career in Madrid. Now, he can he do it two weeks in a row? His draw makes it plausible: The top seed in this section is Marin Cilic, followed by Pablo Carreño Busta and Diego Schwartzman.

Already out: Stan Wawrinka, to Steve Johnson, 6-4 6-4

Semifinalist: Carreño Busta

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Fourth Quarter

Two of this field’s biggest guns, Zverev and Juan Martin del Potro, have been saved for the bottom quarter. They’ll come to Rome with opposing difficulties. Zverev, who has won the last two events, in Munich and Madrid, has played too much; Del Potro, who rejoined the tour last week and lost his second match, has played too little. Neither has a cakewalk to their potential quarterfinal collision: Zverev might start against Frances Tiafoe, who beat him last summer, and follow that with a match against Lucas Pouille. Delpo will play either Borna Coric or Stefanos Tsitsipas in his opener and, potentially, David Goffin after that.

Semifinalist: Zverev

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Semifinals: Nadal d. Nishikori; Zverev d. Carreño Busta

Final: Nadal d. Zverev


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