Time for another look at a trio of matches in Rome. On Thursday, there’s some tasty match-ups. Let’s see who looks like a potential upset victim, who might have a tougher time than usual and who should lock up a spot in the next round.
Straw House: Tomas Berdych
The Berd Man should be on upset alert Thursday as he will face Italian Fabio Fognini. Fognini has beaten Berdych both times they played on clay and done it rather handily, including a 6-4, 6-2 drubbing in Monte Carlo earlier this year. Fognini will come in after bouncing 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov 7-6, 4-6, 6-0. It marked the first time in three tries this season that Fognini was able to beat Dimitrov, so momentum surely will be with him. Berdych had zero issues with a simple victory over Italian qualifier Donati to open in Rome; 6-2, 6-4. Whether it is his own ineptitude in this match-up or something Fognini forces him to do, Berdych has had issues controlling his service games against the Italian in those two career losses. He won just 51 & 52% of his service points in those two matches. Fognini has really hurt him on 2nd serve, winning 57% and 68% of the points in scoring those two victories. That figures to be a key issue on Thursday as well. If Berdych is having trouble consistently getting his 1st serve in, Fognini has shown an ability to hammer that 2nd serve and work the points in his favor. Even though Fognini has not made it past this round in Rome EVER, he may have a realistic opportunity on Thursday.
Sticks House: Stan Wawrinka
Wawrinka goes up against Dominic Thiem in the 3rd round. Wawrinka dropped his opening set to Juan Monaco in his opener before rebounding for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win. Wawrinka had his own second serve issues as he only got his 1st serve in 55% of the time. That left his 2nd serve prone as Monaco won 61% of the 2nd serve points off Wawrinka’s racquet. Wawrinka was able to save 9 of 12 break points overall and pick on Monaco’s feeble serve to secure the win. Thiem moved into the 3rd round by taking down Gilles Simon who was forced to retire in the 2nd set with a neck injury. Thiem was ahead 7-6, 2-0 at the time of the retirement. Thiem has now played three tie breaks out of the four sets he has played in Rome this week, winning all three. That could always come in handy. The two have split their head-to-head battles with Thiem scoring that shock win in Madrid last year, while Wawrinka returned the favor in Paris last October in straight sets 6-4, 7-6. Thiem has never been that far off when they have met, so expect him to test the Swiss in this spot. Wawrinka will have to weather the storm and improve on his serve numbers or he could be going home early this week.
Brick House: Novak Djokovic
Djokovic got much more than he bargained for in his opener against Nicolas Almagro as he was pushed to three sets before winning 6-1, 6-7, 6-3. The most perplexing moments of that match came in the 2nd set when Djokovic lost five straight points in the tie break to go from a 5-2 edge to losing the set. He was able to weather Almagro though and came through with a timely break in the 3rd. He faces Thomaz Bellucci who scored the three set upset win over 14th seeded Roberto Bautista-Agut 1-6, 6-1, 6-4. This will be the third time the two have met, but first since 2011. Djokovic won both previous encounters, both on clay. Even though Djokovic had to go three in his opener, he was still mostly on-point with only one break chance offered up and he saved it. He’s likely to work into Bellucci’s service games much easier than he did against Almagro. You would also think the World #1 would be keen to get a much quicker match under his belt to conserve a little energy heading into the business end of the tournament. Bellucci has a crafty lefty game that can cause problems, but against Top 10 opponents – he usually shows his inferiority. You have to go back to Gstaad in July 2012 to find the last time he beat a Top 10 opponent on clay and that was Janko Tipsarevic. It seems highly unlikely that he’ll cause Djokovic too much fuss in this one.