What’s the difference between Madrid and Rome? This year it starts at the top. Novak Djokovic, after skipping the tour stop in Spain, returns on Tuesday at the Foro Italico. We’ve talked a lot about Rafael Nadal’s up and downs over the last month, while Djokovic has sailed happily under the radar. Or, in his case, over the radar: He has been pretty much perfect in 2015.

But the world No. 1 can only stay out of the spotlight for so long. This week all eyes will be trained on him, as players, press, and fans look for any signs of weakness from the presumed French Open favorite as he prepares again to try to win his first clay-court Grand Slam. Before he and the rest of the field get to Paris, though, here’s a look at what they’ll face at the Foro (see the draw here). Coming, as it does, after the steeliness of Madrid and before the seriousness of Roland Garros, a week in Rome will hopefully feel like a pre-Slam holiday for us hard-working fans.

Djokovic has a special feeling for Rome. He won his first clay Masters title there, in 2008, and last year he played two of the best sets of tennis of his career to beat Nadal in the final. I think he made the right move by pulling out of Madrid and resting for this event and the coming two weeks at Roland Garros. But the move doesn't come without risk: If he goes out early in Rome, he’ll arrive in Paris with virtually no match play over the last five weeks.

If anyone should be confident in his ability to go deep in an event, though, it’s Djokovic. In the six tournaments he’s played in 2015, he’s reached the finals in five of them. At the Foro, he looks safe until at least the quarters: Djokovic starts against Nicolas Almagro and might play Roberto Bautista Agut after that; he’s a combined 5-1 against them.

But the quarters should be tougher. Fifth seed Kei Nishikori, who knocked Djokovic out of the U.S. Open last year, is in this section. Nishikori starts against Jiri Vesely, and has a chance to push himself back into the Top 4 before the seedings for the French Open are made. Having skipped Rome last year, he can make up ground fast.

First-round match to watch: Feliciano Lopez vs. Nick Kyrgios


Ciao, Nole

Ciao, Nole

As I write this, Andy Murray is the third seed, though it’s possible he could pull out of the event after his busy, and surprisingly successful, two weeks in Madrid and Munich. Last year, Murray had a good run here, reaching the quarters and nearly beating Nadal. This time, if he does play, he’ll start against Jeremy Chardy and is scheduled to face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after that. As well as he’s playing, another deep run on clay is going to be a big ask from Murray this week.

Whoever reaches the quarters from that side may find themselves with a battle on their hands. David Ferrer is the second seed in this section. The Spaniard is currently ranked No. 8, one behind Nadal, and has quarterfinal points from 2014 to defend.

Nadal said he’s going to “delete” his unsightly Sunday loss to Murray from his mind ASAP. That’s a good idea, because there’s no time to rest for him. He says he needs to “recapture the feelings” needed to win big matches, and he could use a few big wins. Rafa is teetering at No. 7 in the rankings, and he has runner-up points to defend; a title could bump him up, an early defeat would leave him even more vulnerable as he goes to Paris. Rafa will start against Marsel Ilhan, a qualifier from Turkey ranked 87th. Assuming he wins that, his next match could come against the ever-aggravating John Isner.

Stan Wawrinka is the top seed on the other side. So far this hasn’t been Stan’s spring: His ranking is down to No. 9, he hasn’t reached a quarterfinal since February, and he has looked either lost or unduly agitated on court. He’ll try again to get it turned around against Juan Monaco on Tuesday.

Second-round match to watch: Gilles Simon vs. Dominic Thiem


Ciao, Nole

Ciao, Nole

Roger Federer’s clay season so far has included a win at a small event in Istanbul, and early losses in Monte Carlo and Madrid. This will be his last chance to build momentum as heads for the French, and while the clay here may not be his favorite—Rome is one of the few significant events Federer has never won—his draw makes a decent run look possible. Federer will start against Pablo Cuevas and could play either Kevin Anderson or Philipp Kohlschreiber after that.

Tomas Berdych is the top seed in the other half. His loss to Nadal in the Madrid semifinals on Saturday wasn’t surprising, but it was puzzling. For a guy who had beaten Rafa earlier in the year, and has said how much he wants to win a big event with new coach Dani Vallverdu, the Berdman looked oddly passive and resigned. We’ll see what he brings to Rome, where he has been a semifinalist.

Second-round match to watch: Grigor Dimitrov vs. Fabio Fognini. The Bulgarian and the Italian will face off for the second time in as many weeks.

Semifinals: Djokovic d. Ferrer; Nadal d. Berdych

Final: Djokovic d. Nadal