Internazionali BNL d’Italia Preview
Madrid champ Novak Djokovic heads to Rome this week with a chance to complete the Madrid-Rome double for just the second time in his career. The Serb beat Andy Murray 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the Mutua Madrid Open final on Sunday to claim his 29th career Masters title. It also marked his 6th title in 2016. He arrives in Rome as the two-time defending champion and top seed. Murray will be seeded second this week despite dropping to #3 in the ATP rankings this week. The Scot has traditionally not performed well in Rome with just a 9-9 mark in his career.
Rounding out the top four seeds are Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. Federer will be looking to shake off a back injury he suffered in practice last week in Madrid. That caused Federer to withdraw from the tournament, Wawrinka arrives in Non-Slam Stan mode after dropping his opening match in Madrid to Nick Kyrgios. Credit the Aussie for a solid match, but Wawrinka has been slumping since Dubai. He’s been dumped out in his opening match in two of the last four Masters events.
Rafael Nadal checks in as the 5th seed and will look to shake off his disappointing semifinal loss in Madrid to Murray. Rome may be the place to do it as Rafa has won the title here seven times. Wawrinka’s upset of Rafa last year in the Rome quarterfinals ended a six year streak where the lefty had made it to the Rome final. Kei Nishikori, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych round out the top eight seeds. As a side note, the top two seeds have faced off in the final in Rome in four of the last five years.
As a Masters 1000, there are fewer seeded upsets early on in the tournament. Over the past five years, just 14 seeds have lost their opening matches in Rome. It should be noted however that a top eight seed has been amongst that carnage in four of the last five years. The #8 seed has been the victim three times with Roger Federer’s stunning loss in 2014 as the #4 seed as the highest seed to lose his opener in that span. So let that sizzle on your brain as we take a look at this week’s Seed Report.
1. Novak Djokovic
The Serb made sure there were no doubts in Madrid that he is still the player to beat with the French Open closing in at the end of the month. Djokovic has been ridiculously good in Rome with a 34-5 record and four titles. He has only failed to make the final here once since 2011.
2. Andy Murray
Whether it is rest for Roland Garros or simply just that the surface doesn’t jive with him as well as Madrid, this tournament has not been a good one for Murray. He is 9-9 all-time with a semifinal finish in 2011 as his best result. Since then, he’s lost in the third round or earlier in three of the last four years. His draw could give him a shot to at least change that trend.
3. Roger Federer
Federer has never won the title in Rome, but he has made the final four times. That includes two of the last three years. This year, it will be very difficult to expect anything close to that for the Swiss. Fed is 31-15 in Rome, but faces a wicked draw that will include either Alexander Zverev or Grigor Dimitrov first and then possibly Dominic Thiem if he survives that one. If Fed is still around for the quarterfinals, it will have been a job well done for the week.
4. Stan Wawrinka
The Stanimal is 20-10 in his career in Rome with a 2008 finals appearance as his best finish. Last year’s semifinal finish was Wawrinka’s best in Rome since 2010. In the years from 2011 to 2014, he had failed to get past the third round. With his confidence perhaps shaky and another go-round with his BFF Benoit Paire in his opener, Wawrinka is going to need to produce an A-level effort to avoid an early exit. Should he get past Paire though, he could be one to watch this week with a reasonable draw after that.
5. Rafael Nadal
This became a bigger week for Nadal as soon as he lost to Murray in the Madrid semifinals. The confidence that the Spaniard had built up for the last few weeks took a hit with that poor performance. Rome has always been good to him with a 47-4 mark. Rafa will be seeking to get back in track in a tournament that has seen him in the final six of the last seven years. The unfortunate thing for Nadal is that he’s drawn into Djokovic’s quarter and has Milos Raonic or Nick Kyrgios as potential opponent before a potential quarterfinal showdown with Djokovic.
6. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori is a relative novice at this event with just a 3-2 record here. His quarterfinal showing last year was his best. He’s in Federer’s quarter, so if he can find a groove early then Nishikori could be a factor at the business end of the tournament. He may have to go through Richard Gasquet again this week. He broke a six match losing streak to the Frenchman last week in Madrid.
7. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga is another one that won’t have much expectation placed on him this week. He is 8-8 in Rome with the quarterfinals as his best finish. He did that twice in 2010 and 2012. In the last three years, he has lost his opener once, made the third round and lost in the second round. His first rounder against Ivo Karlovic or Ernests Gulbis will be interesting.
8. Tomas Berdych
The Czech is 16-10 in Rome during his career with a semifinal showing in 2013 as his best run. He has been steady here, making the quarterfinals in four of the last five years. He is stuck in Murray’s quarter, but that could actually benefit him due to Murray’s lack of success here. Of course it may only benefit him if someone else knocks Murray out as Berdych got his clock cleaned by the Scot last week.
Qualifiers traditionally do not make a ton of noise in Rome. There have been a few isolated runs over the last few years, but the majority of the qualifiers are out after the second round. Last year, Thomaz Bellucci made the third round and Ernests Gulbis equaled that feat in 2013. Back in 2011, Jarkko Nieminen surprised with a third round appearance as a lucky loser.
Gulbis could bear watching as a qualifier this week. Despite his absolute garbage dumpster fire of a season, he could make a wave or two. He has to get past Karlovic in the opening round, but then gets a shot at Tsonga. Gulbis has won two straight over the Frenchman, but that have not met since 2014.
First Quarter: Novak Djokovic (1)
The Serb should feel comfortable with this quarter. Nadal is the seed opposite of him. Djokovic could see Pablo Cuevas or 14th seed Gael Monfils in the third round. That match-up might at least make him exert some energy after what looks like an easy opener against Aljaz Bedene or Stephane Robert. Monfils might have his work cut out for him in round one against Bellucci. Monfils is 3-0 against the Brazilian, but it’s been tough work more often than not. Monfils is also returning to Rome for the first time since 2012.
In the bottom half, Nadal could find himself with problematic match-ups all the way through. He will open against Philipp Kohlschreiber or Inigo Cervantes and that should be a good match-up for him. From there though, he faces the prospect of facing the power of either 10th seed Milos Raonic or Nick Kyrgios. Raonic opens against Marco Cecchinato, while the surging Aussie gets Italian wild card Salvatore Caruso. Raonic made the semis in Rome in his last trip in 2014, but was 0-3 over a three year span before that. Kyrgios is playing some of the more consistent tennis we’ve seen from him in the last two years. He could be a fly in Rafa’s plans for a quarterfinal showdown with Djokovic.
In the end, it’s difficult not to see this quarter falling to Djokovic. The Pig thinks Nadal will be pushing hard this week to at least get a shot at the Serb before Roland Garros. I think he needs that to find out something about himself ahead of the French Open. The Serb has won six straight from Rafa without dropping a set.
Second Quarter: Roger Federer (3)
Federer’s draw does not look conducive to a big run this week. Quite frankly, just getting on court and proving he is healthy would be a big get for the Swiss this week. He opens against either Zverev or Dimitrov. The Dimitrov match-up would probably be the more comfortable of the two with Federer standing 5-0 against him with a 2-0 mark this year. He’s hit with Zverev a few times, but has not played him in a competitive match. Dominic Thiem is the seed standing in the way of a quarterfinal for Fed. The 13th seeded Austrian had a tough time with the quick turnaround from the Munich final last week. This week, he has to worry about Alexandr Dolgpolov to open. The tricky Ukrainian beat him the last time they met, albeit on grass.
The bottom of the quarter is led by Nishikori and also has 11th seeded Richard Gasquet. Nishikori is matched up against Viktor Troicki to open. Troicki beat Temuraz Gabashvili in his opener on Sunday. Gasquet opens against countryman Julien Benneteau. Gasquet could have a shot to return the favor against Nishikori who beat him last week in Madrid. Those courts suited Nishikori better, but Rome could give a small edge back to Gasquet who is still 6-1 against the 6th seed. The survivor in this half could be the odds-on favorite to progress to the semifinals.
You can’t expect much from Federer this week. One of the young bucks in the top half might take advantage like Zverev or Thiem. Still, Nishikori or Gasquet looks like the best shot to escape this quarter. The Pig is going to regret thinking Gasquet could be that guy, right?
Third Quarter: Stan Wawrinka (4)
I’m never one to be sold on Wawrinka in a non-Slam situation, but I do think if he can find a way to beat Paire to open, he could be in for a decent week. A win there would see him get Juan Monaco or 16th seed Kevin Anderson. Anderson has proven tough against Wawrinka with wins in four of their last five match-ups, but he’s working back from injury. If Wawrinka drops his opener to Paire, this is anyone’s half to squeeze into the quarterfinals.
The opposite half features 7th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 9th seed David Ferrer. The two first rounders in this part of the draw are intriguing with Karlovic-Gulbis and Fabio Fognini against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Ferrer may be able to get on a roll this week with Filippo Volandri to open and then likely Fognini, who he is 9-0 against. Even if no one helps him by taking out Tsonga, Ferrer might have enough to get past him. The Spaniard is 3-1 against Tsonga and would love to get hot before Roland Garros.
This is another open looking quarter. Wawrinka could be the guy to beat, but he’s got to bring it in his opener against Paire. Ferrer looks like a legit dark horse in this part of the draw to advance to the semis.
Fourth Quarter: Andy Murray (2)
Murray’s half of the quarter should provide some promise of a better than usual week for the Scot in Rome. His opener will come against Mikhail Kukushkin or Borna Coric. So long as Murray isn’t sulking from losing in the Madrid final, he should get through to round three. The seed he could see there is #15 Roberto Bautista Agut. RBA has Paolo Lorenzi to start and then could face either Jeremy Chardy or qualifier Dami Dzumhur. RBA hasn’t been strong in Rome, so there is some room for a surprise here. If Murray doesn’t get to the quarters, it’ll be shame on him.
The other half is led by Berdych. David Goffin (12) is also in that half. Goffin won his opener in three sets against Leonardo Mayer. He could face Jack Sock in round two. Sock opens against Guido Pella and comes in with decent form. Berdych opens with Albert Ramos-Vinolas. The Spaniard can be tough, so Berdych could be pressed in his opening match. Berdych should be the one to beat here as he has whipped Goffin twice in their careers and has the experience edge. Sock is the X-factor, but his 2-14 mark against the Top 10 makes it hard to like him.
The Pig sees Murray bowing out in Rome before the semifinals even with this fairly simplistic draw. It’s just been his M.O. for years. That leaves Berdych as the potential guy to slide into that slot.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
Djokovic’s performance in Madrid likely won’t give much hope to an upset for the usual Masters plot. The best shot at an upset though could be against a motivated Nadal in the quarterfinals. That means Rafa has to get there first and still, his confidence against Nole can’t be high. In the bottom half, Wawrinka is just a blip on the Pig’s radar for giving a F this week. Don’t know why, just feels like he could take advantage of a good draw and the lack of success for Murray in Rome. A Djokovic-Wawrinka Rome final would provide a nice set-up for Roland Garros and perhaps a talking point as to whether or not Djokovic can finally get that money off his back.