Straw House: John Isner
As good as the results have been for John Isner in the past few months, this is a tough spot for him. He will face Argentine Leonardo Mayer in the 2nd round in Rome on Wednesday. Isner won his opener on Monday 7-6, 6-3 over Joao Sousa. He whipped in 13 aces and faced only one break chance. Isner’s win in R1 was his first in Rome since 2012. Mayer had little issue with Italian wild card Federico Gaio 6-3, 6-4. This will be the 1st meeting between these two. Isner surprised with a quarterfinal showing in Madrid last week, but the conditions in Spain better suited his power serving game. In Rome, his serve may not have as much bite to it which will force Isner to not just rely on power, but also on placement. Mayer for his part has a stout serve that can stick with players like Isner on clay. It will be important for Mayer to come out punching with his serve in the opening set, a set that would be key to any upset possibilities for Mayer on Wednesday. if he sticks in and can sneak it out in the 1st, look for him to have every opportunity to knock Isner out.
Sticks House: Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov will be facing Fabio Fognini for the third time this season on clay. Dimitrov has claimed both previous match-ups, a three set win last week in Madrid and a straight setter in Monte Carlo. Still, their meeting last week was very close with Dimitrov winning 7-5 in the deciding set. Dimitrov did a masterful job of saving break points in that one with only three of 14 possible chances slipping to Fognini. Dimitrov for his part converting on five of ten break chances from Fognini. That figures to be a key point to their 2nd round battle in Rome. Fognini was very stable in his 1st round match against Steve Johnson, winning 83% of the points off his 1st serve and 57% off his 2nd. He saved both of the break chances he gave. Dimitrov slipped by Janowicz 6-3, 7-6 in the 1st round. He had no issues on-serve either as he did not even allow a break chance. Fognini is as big a rollercoaster ride as there is on the ATP tour, so this is difficult to predict. Rome has not been a great battleground for him with just a 4-7 mark all-time. He has never progressed past the 2nd round, but getting to see the same player for a third time in a relatively short stretch, is going to level the playing field some. Dimitrov though has been more consistent since the clay swing started and I think that might be what just gets him through here. Still, this is a coin flip and Fognini could easily score the upset if he keeps his cool and converts better on break chances.
Brick House: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga battles Belgian David Goffin whom he beat 6-3, 6-4 in Monte Carlo earlier this year. In four career meetings, Goffin has managed one win over Tsonga and that came surpisingly on an indoor hard court in Metz last Fall. Tsonga showed better last week in Madrid as he still searches for his best form coming off an arm injury that took the first three months of the season from him. He was able to work past Sam Querrey to open on Tuesday 7-6, 6-0. After a wobbly forst set that saw both players broken twice, Tsonga settled in for the 2nd and never looked threatened. Goffin had to rally from down a set to Italian qualifier Andrea Arnaboldi. Once he got going though, it was cruise control as he won the final two sets 6-2, 6-1 for the win. He picked over a weak serve from the Italian who offered up 22 break opportunites for the match. This will be markedly tougher against Tsonga and vice versa, but Goffin just does not seem to have that magic going for him like he did in 2014. He’s basically beating players he should beat, but struggling to finish off against most players inside the Top 30. Both players could obviously use the confidence boost from a win on Wednesday, but I think Tsonga’s serve could be the deciding factor. Goffin has had more trouble breaking it down than Tsonga has had breaking down Goffin’s serve. Ultimately, whomever pounces on those break chances more effectively is your winner. I think that is Tsonga again in this spot.