ATP 1000 Rome Preview The Last Chance Before the Showdown in Paris
Rome is the last chance for the Roland Garros title favorites to get some match practice in before the big one in Paris in a couple of week’s time. The Tennis Review looks at what a deep run in Rome would do for the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal.
Novak Djokovic: Champion 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015
Match practice at ATP events is not a pre-requisite for Djokovic when it comes to entering and winning a slam. The six times Australian Champion and three times Wimbledon champion has tended to come into both those events quite cold recently, just competing in Doha and exhibition events. The Serb also has not won many events in the lead up to the US Open the years he has won (he won Canada in 2011, but none last year).
In fact, the French Open is the slam at which Djokovic has been most successful in the lead up to, partly because it has the longest lead-in of the four slams, and yet it is the only slam he has not won.
Djokovic has won Rome three times in the years he has been favored to win in Paris (2011, 2014-15), but it has not helped him win the big one.
Djokovic has had as unpredictable a clay season as it gets this year- losing in his Monte Carlo opener to Jiri Vesely, and then winning Madrid, his historically least successful Clay ATP 1000 event.
The Serb is still the favorite to win in Rome, but he will have a tough time doing so. Nadal is scheduled for the last eight, Federer in the semis, and he could face his Roland Garros conqueror Stan Wawrinka in the final.
If he does win, we will be none the wiser about his Paris chances. Another ATP 1000 trophy will not hurt him, but it won’t heal what is by far Djokovic’s biggest tennis wound.
Rafa Nadal: Champion 2005-07, 2009-10, 2012, 2013.
Confidence is key for Nadal right now and the Spaniard’s may have been dented a little by his recent loss to Andy Murray in the Madrid Semis.
Nadal may not recover by the time he meets Djokovic in the Rome quarters, but if his confidence is going to come back anywhere, Rome is a likely place- Nadal has won seven titles at the Foro Italico.
Nadal has been playing better tennis than Djokovic on slow clay this season with wins in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and he will want to make another big statement just before Paris.
How Nadal will respond if he beats Djokovic will be interesting to see. He could have a let down after finally getting his first win over the world No.1 since Roland Garros 2014, or it could get his career really going again.
Most likely, it would be the latter- if he does beat Djokovic, then it is hard looking past Nadal as the Rome Champion, and if he achieves both a win over the world No. 1, and the Rome title, that would be just what he needs to set him up for a historic tenth run to the Roland Garros title.
Andy Murray: Semi-finals 2011, 2014
Murray seems to really believe he has a French Open title in him, and why not? The Scot is a multiple slam winner, and has in the last fourteen months proved he can compete with the best on Clay.
A win in Rome would strengthen his case- the event has similar conditions to Paris, unlike Madrid, and has a much stronger field than Murray’s other clay court title, Munich (2015).
For such a consistent player, Murray has a wildly inconsistent record in Rome. The Scot has played some of his best clay court matches in the Italian Capital, taking both Nadal and Djokovic to the brink in three sets in 2014 and 2011 respectively, but has also only made it to the last eight twice in nine visits.
In those Rome matches versus Nadal and Djokovic, Murray could not play his best tennis on the points that mattered. History seems to repeat itself with the world No.2- he played his best slow clay tennis versus Djokovic at Roland Garros in 2015, and versus Nadal in Monte Carlo this season only to weaken when he really needed to be strong, and it is hard to see him winning the French Open unless he can change that unfortunate, and harmful, recurring scenario.
Murray has a nice Rome draw this season- he is in the opposite half of Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer.
The second seed is scheduled to meet Tomas Berdych in the last eight- the Scot has not lost a set to the Czech in their last three matches going back to the 2015 Miami semis.
Wawrinka is scheduled in the last four, but whether or not the Swiss makes it there is anyone’s guess.
If Murray makes it to the final relatively fresh, he could take advantage of a final opponent more worn out by a tougher draw and get some invaluable confidence going into Roland Garros from winning his biggest slow court Clay title yet.
Roger Federer: Runner-up 2003, 2006, 2013, 2015.
Federer has played just three matches on Clay this season, in Monte Carlo, and is 2-1 on the surface.
Expectations of Federer in Paris are as low as they ever have been in a season hampered by knee surgery, which means he can go into Rome, try out a few things, and have some fun, too.
The Swiss will need to be relaxed- he is scheduled to meet the dangerous Dominic Thiem in the third round.
— norinchi (@norinchi_df) May 8, 2016
The recently restored world No.2 will receive plenty of support whoever he faces. Check out the video above to see the reaction the Swiss got when he came onto court in Rome to practice.
Wawrinka went into Roland Garros 2015 with a 6-4 record on clay so how he does in the run-up is not going to help us when it comes to predicting the Swiss’ chances in Paris.
The Swiss has a tough match with Benoit Paire in his Rome opener, and could face ninth seed David Ferrer in the quarters (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has pulled out of the draw).
Murray would await in the last four, and the Swiss has won their last three matches, including their round robin match at last year’s World Tour Finals.
The world No.4 gets inspired by the big occasion, so if he makes it out of his half to the Rome final, then he is as likely to win it as anyone.
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