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Road to Roland Garros, presented by ZipRecruiter, ATP Rome: With Alcaraz absent, can Djokovic and Nadal stage a counterattack?
Or, will someone else emerge victorious to gain match momentum heading into Roland Garros?
Published May 09, 2022
HIGHLIGHTS: Alcaraz edges Djokovic in Madrid classic
In past years, Rome could seem to be something of an afterthought in the run-up to Roland Garros. Once Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic had reestablished that they were the players to beat on clay in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid, there wasn’t much left for them to prove at the Foro Italico. Of course, that didn’t stop them from proving it: Nadal has won this tournament 10 times, and Djokovic five, and they’ve met in the final two of the last three years.
But 2022 is different. Neither the Serb nor the Spaniard has won a French Open tune-up tournament yet, and they’re still in the process of finding their form and their legs after long lay-offs. Just as important, they have a young challenger in Carlos Alcaraz who beat both of them in Madrid. So with Alcaraz absent in Rome, can Djokovic and Nadal, who are slated to meet in the semifinals, stage an Empire Strikes Back sequel? They should be as motivated as they’ve ever been. Here’s a a look ahead at the draw.
Despite his close loss to Alcaraz in Madrid, Djokovic says he’s on the right track with his game and his fitness; just being able to fight the 19-year-old tooth and nail for three sets is a good sign at this stage. Djokovic probably won't have to be quite as good to make it through his quarter in Rome. He’ll start against Aslan Karatsev, and could face Reilly Opelka (a semifinalist here last year) in the round of 16 and Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarterfinals. FAA, after a mediocre-at-best couple of months, showed signs of life in Madrid, where he beat Jannik Sinner and pushed Alexander Zverev.
Also here: Miomir Kecmanovic, who may be the favorite in his first-round match against No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman
It would seem to be go-time for Nadal. He got his reps in, and got some of the rust out, in Madrid; now he’ll want to push his game to its highest level before the French. If the rankings hold, his path will take him through John Isner, Denis Shapovalov, and Casper Ruud. None of those are gimmes, especially Ruud on clay, but a loss to any of them would be a major upset, and a possible warning sign for his Roland Garros chances.
First-round matches to watch:
- Shapovalov vs. Lorenzo Sonego
- Hubert Hurkacz vs. David Goffin
- Sebastian Korda vs. Botic Van de Zandschulp
By the time we make it to Paris, we should have a pretty good idea where Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas stand, relative to each other, in the line of Roland Garros contenders. They played last week in Madrid, where Tsitsipas won in three sets; now they’re scheduled to play again in the quarters in Rome. Last week, the Greek and the Russian failed to make the final in Madrid; this week they’ll want to slow the roll of the two players who did, Alcaraz and Zverev, in a potential semifinal in Rome. Rublev’s toughest early competition may come from home favorite Jannik Sinner, while Tsitsipas could face Pablo Carreño Busta in the round of 16.
First-round match to watch:
- Dominic Thiem vs. Fabio Fognini
Alexander Zverev called Alcaraz the “best player in the world right now” after losing to him on Sunday. So he’s probably happy he won’t have to see him across the net again in Rome. Alcaraz was originally scheduled to be in this quarter with Zverev; with the Spaniard’s withdraw, lucky loser Emil Ruusuvuori takes his place. With that switch, Zverev, assuming he recovers from his runner-up run in Madrid, will be the heavy favorite to make the semis in Rome, a tournament he has won in the past.