2015 ATP Rome Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
After the excitement of the Madrid Masters, the ATP heads to the third and final Masters event of the clay court season in Rome, where the intimate venue tends to create late night drama and bring out passionate fan support. This clay court season continues to be one of the most wide open in years, with multiple top players in feasible contention for the title going into this tournament.
Internazionali BNL d’Italia
ATP World Tour Masters 1000*
May 10-May 17, 2015
Prize Money: €3,288,530
Top 8 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (2)
3: Andy Murray (3)
4: Rafael Nadal (4)
5: Kei Nishikori (5)
6: Tomas Berdych (7)
7: David Ferrer (8)
8: Stan Wawrinka (9)
Milos Raonic pulled out but Djokovic is back in action, in terms of other names missing from the top 20, Tommy Robredo (injury), and Gael Monfils are both missing in action. Other players missing include Fernando Verdasco, and Italy’s Andreas Seppi.
First round matchups to watch:
(WC)Luca Vanni vs. Nicolas Almagro
The Italian wild card Vanni is unlikely to win over the much more accomplished Almagro, but he has a better chance than people are predicting. The slice and dicer on clay reached his first career ATP final at 29 in Sao Paulo, and he’s followed that up well as he qualified in Madrid, and then upset Bernard Tomic before falling in round 2 of the main draw. Vanni hits a lot of slice and has variety in his game, but not much power, and he’s on track to reach the top 100 and be able to compete at the ATP level on a regular basis. Almagro is still working back from injury problems and he comes off a round 1 loss in Madrid, though he has reached a pair of clay quarterfinals this Spring (Casablanca and Estoril). His power is likely to overwhelm Vanni matchup wise, but you never know if Vanni can work him into errors.
(11)Feliciano Lopez vs. Nick Kyrgios
With Lopez’s struggles on clay continuing unabated, Kyrgios is the favorite to score yet another top 15 win. The Aussie young gun is regularly battling hard against the ATP’s best these days, as he shocked Roger Federer in a Madrid thriller before falling in he round of 16. Prior to that, he reached the final in Estoril, his first on the ATP tour. It’s also notable he’s doing this on clay, which is his worst surface (likewise for Lopez). At this point it’s clear NK has arrived, and he’s earned the respect that a top player deserves, his rapid rise should continue with a win here as Lopez hasn’t won consecutive matches since March, he’s also one of the easier seeds to face on clay.
(9)Marin Cilic vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
An intriguing matchup of unpredictable players, the heavy hitting Cilic has yet to return to the form that saw him reach top 10 status, while Garcia-Lopez is having the best year of his career, while at the same time being inconsistent from week to week, as you never really know what you are going to get with him. The h2h is an even 1-1 and this is their first meeting on clay. The style contrast will be a joy as GGL brings variety and Cilic brings brute force. GGL won Bucharest and reached the Semis in Estoril, but lost early in both Casablanca and Madrid. Cilic reached the quarters in Monte Carlo but is just 1-2 since then, as the pressure is starting to build on the Croat if he is to keep his ranking up. This is another 50/50 match, but I’m going with Garcia-Lopez in an upset, he should be rested by now and appears to be playing better.
Dominic Thiem vs. Simone Bolelli
A quality matchup featuring clean ballstrikers, both have been in erratic form this season, but have the ability to play some of their tennis on clay. Thiem comes off the quarters in Munich but he’s just 2-3 on red clay this year, with 3 bad losses to lower ranked opponents. Bolelli, who reached the quarters in Bucharest, won a pair of matches before falling to Rafael Nadal in Madrid. The home court Italian is 5-4 on spring red clay in Europe, and playing in Rome is a big deal for him. This one could go either way, but given home soil, and a slight edge in form to Bolelli, I have him winning this one and continuing the pedestrian showings for Thiem.
(12)Gilles Simon vs. Jack Sock
A matchup of interest for American tennis fans, Houston champ Jack Sock, who upset Pablo Andujar in Madrid, and then pushed Tsonga to 3 sets, will take on the pusher Simon who is 3-2 on clay this year, and did not play in Madrid. Sock, who may be the best American clay courter right now (John Isner is the only other player in the conversation), will of course bring his aggressive forehand centric game to the table, against Simon’s defensive rallying and massaging of the ball. If Sock can keep his errors down and avoid frustration, he should be able to upset Simon, but that can be a tall task.
Three time, and defending champion Novak Djokovic should be well rested as he begins his quest to win yet another Masters title. It’s unlikely he’ll have much of a problem stretching his 18 match win streak to 20 matches as his first two opponents Vanni/Almagro and probably Roberto Bautista Agut, aren’t world beaters at the moment. RBA is 8-4 on clay this year, with all of those losses coming to top 8 opponents. He has a weak draw of Marcel Granollers, and a qualifier to start, but he doesn’t have the game to trouble Djokovic (0-2 h2h with no sets won). I don’t see Novak dropping a set en route to the quarterfinals.
Kei Nishikori, a semifinalist in Madrid, and the winner in Barcelona, will open with the winner of Ernests Gulbis/Jiri Vesely, and in theory either of those opponents could give him trouble if he’s fatigued. That said, Gulbis continues his disastrous form (5 straight losses), and Vesely has lost three straight himself, so though they have the ability, it’s unlikely they will show it. Nishikori could be in more trouble in the round of 16 though, if Kyrgios continues his fine form and beats Lopez and then the Bernard Tomic/Viktor Troicki winner. Kyrgios-Tomic is a good matchup on paper, but Bernie is not a clay courter and he’s failed to impress this year on the surface (3 straight losses), likewise Troicki is in a slump (4 straight losses), so Kyrgios is actually a favorite in the section. Kyrgios-Nishikori is hard to predict, and stamina will be a factor, but given this is clay, I see Nishikori getting through to the quarters.
Andy Murray, who has a poor record in Rome (8-9), will open with the Jeremy Chardy/Lukas Rosol winner. Murray has been in solid form as of late, he’s currently a finalist in Madrid, and won Munich, but with so much tennis over the past two weeks, he could be fatigued going into this tournament. Chardy has lost three straight, while Rosol has a pair of quarterfinals on clay this season, Chardy has a 2-0 clay h2h, but I still see Rosol winning a toss-up match. Murray just beat Rosol in a three setter in Munich, and presuming he does play in Rome, I still see him getting through his opening match, given his elite level of fitness. The next round should pose a problem however, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Goffin are both solid clay court threats. Goffin pushed Nishikori to three sets in Madrid while Tsonga is 4-3 on the surface this year. Tsonga won the h2h match with Goffin on clay in Monte Carlo this year, and thus he should advance in another hard to predict matchup. Tsonga faces Sam Querrey round 1, and Goffin will face a qualifier. Tsonga and Murray have never played on clay, though Murray has a decisive h2h edge on other surfaces. I made the mistake last week of picking Murray to go out early, but I’m going to do it again anyway, and pick Tsonga to go through to the quarters, allowing Murray to get much needed rest before the French Open, where he could pose a threat given his play in Munich and Madrid.
David Ferrer will get a tough round 2 matchup will Richard Gasquet, barring Reeshy loses to a qualifier. Ferrer is 2-0 on clay against Gasquet, but lost their last two h2h meetings. The Barcelona semifinalist and Madrid and Monte Carlo quarterfinalist has been steady but not in peak form on clay this year. Gasquet won the title in Estoril then fell in round 2 of Madrid. It’ll be an interesting match, and fun to watch, but Ferrer has to be the favorite on clay to advance to the round of 16. There he is likely to face the winner of Garcia-Lopez/Cilic. Martin Klizan, who has played good tennis this season, was injured in Madrid, and it’s uncertain if he’s healthy again, he will open with a qualifier, and then the winner of that will be the next opponent for GGL/Cilic. Klizan has a h2h win on clay over GGL, and if he’s healthy, he could reach the round of 16, but for now GGL has to be the pick in this interesting section. Ferrer is 3-0 on clay against his countryman, and thus should reach the quarters, though he may drop a set or two en route.
Roger Federer, the champion in Istanbul, comes off a shock loss to Kyrgios in Madrid, and he’s never won the title in Rome (three previous finals). That said, he still should be able to recover his form and beat Pablo Cuevas, who he beat in Istanbul, in round 2. Cuevas will open with Italian journeyman Paolo Lorenzi. After Cuevas, the rather pedestrian draw for Federer will continue, as Philipp Kohlschreiber is his toughest possible round 3 opponent. Kohli will need to beat an injured Donald Young, and the winner of Florian Mayer/Kevin Anderson. Mayer is just 2-4 in his comeback, and Anderson has lost three straight. Kohlschreiber reached the final in Munich and the quarters in Barcelona (his last two losses in Madrid and Munich have come at the hands of Andy Murray), still Federer is a big step up in competition level and in 7 h2h matches, Kohlschreiber has won just a single set off the Swiss legend. Thus look for Federer to blitz through a pair of weak matches to reach the quarters.
Madrid semifinalist, and Monte Carlo finalist Tomas Berdych has been in fine form all season, and that should continue against Santiago Giraldo in round 2. Giraldo will open with Italian wild card Matteo Donati. He’s been in poor form, but he still should have enough game to beat the 20 year old who has 1 challenger final on his resume in 2015. Berdych should get a more interesting test against Grigor Dimitrov, a semifinalist in Istanbul, and a quarterfinalist in both Monte Carlo and Madrid. Dimitrov started the year off slow but he’s found a better run of form on clay, and thus should have little trouble dispatching Jerzy Janowicz, who has lost two straight, and Fabio Fognini who he just beat in 3 sets in Madrid. Fognini opens with American Steve Johnson, who is slowly getting used to playing on red clay it seems. The Italian will have fan support, but he’s still extremely moody and unpredictable. When it comes to Berdych-Dimitrov, the clay h2h is 1-1 and Dimitrov won their Rome meeting last year. That said, Berdych has been dare I say the most consistent player on tour this year, and his machinelike consistency gives him the edge to reach the quarters in yet another Masters event.
7 time Rome Champion, and current Madrid finalist Rafael Nadal should be able to blow past Adrian Mannarino/qualifier in round 2, and also defeat either John Isner or Leo Mayer in the round of 16. It’s a rather weak draw for the Spanish star. Isner will open with Joao Sousa, as he comes off the quarters in Madrid, a great result for him given it’s clay, while Mayer, who won a pair of matches in Madrid, faces Italian wild card Federico Gaio, a 23 year old with good results in futures. Isner should be able to reach the round of 16, but Nadal is 5-0 against him, with three wins on clay, including in Monte Carlo this year. Even when not at his best, Rafa has the edge against Isner, especially on clay.
Stan Wawrinka will take on Juan Monaco or a qualifier in his opening match, Stan the man continues to struggle, as he lost round 2 in Madrid, but he’s 4-0 against Monaco, including a win on clay this year, so regardless he should win his opening contest. After that Sock/Simon is likely to beckon in the round of 16, though Bolelli/Thiem are also options. All four of those players are very capable opponents and solid. Personally I’m backing Sock’s superior form to buzzsaw through to the round of 16, where he could upset Wawrinka. It’s perhaps unlikely, but Wawrinka is struggling, and appears mentally checked out, so the possibility is there. He’s the top 8 seed most likely to lose before the quarters but I still have him winning. Thiem, Bolelli, and Simon have all beaten Wawrinka before, while Thiem is the only player to do so on clay.
Dark Horses: Nick Kyrgios, David Goffin, Jack Sock, Fabio Fognini
Kyrgios is a rather obvious dark horse choice, as he should reach the round of 16, and then we’ll see what kind of shape Nishikori is in. I wouldn’t give him much of a chance against Novak in the quarters, but he’s beaten Federer and Nadal, so who’s to say he can’t add another big four scalp to his list.
Goffin would need to beat Tsonga to get anywhere but if he does, like Jo, he has a great chance to benefit from Murray’s fatigue, and should he do so, beating Ferrer isn’t out of the question in the quarters. It’s an outside chance, but believable all the same.
Sock would have a great tournament just by beating Simon and Bolelli/Thiem, but if he upsets Wawrinka that would take the result to an even higher level of magnitude. All of those players would be tough opponents, but he has the game to do it, and can cement himself as the American #1 on clay if he runs the ringer.
Fognini could be a threat on home soil, the talent is there, but he’s incredibly hard to predict. He did push Dimitrov to three sets in Madrid, so if he can switch that result around you can’t entirely count him out against Berdych on clay, and given the circumstances.
Djokovic d. Nishikori
Ferrer d. Tsonga
Nadal d. Wawrinka
Berdych d. Federer
Djokovic won his only clay court match with Nishikori, and given he’s been the best player in the world all season, and he’s rested, I have little doubt he’ll at least reach the semifinals in Rome. Ferrer is 2-0 on clay against Tsonga, and no matter who he faces (Murray/Tsonga/Goffin), he should benefit from the draw and reach the semis due to how its structured.
I don’t see Nadal losing before the semis either, as Wawrinka, in his current form, is extremely unlikely to pose a threat, especially with Nadal rounding into form. Nadal is 5-0 on clay against Wawrinka. I’m going with an upset in Berdych vs. Federer, Federer has never played as well in Rome compared to other tournaments, and he was shaky in Istanbul and Madrid. By contrast Berdych’s game has been reliable and a threat to everyone on tour this year. Federer is 3-0 on clay, and beat Berdych this year at IW, but I don’t feel he’s the same player at the moment.
Djokovic d. Ferrer
Nadal d. Berdych
Djokovic actually tends to have to fight against Ferrer on clay (2-3 h2h) but he’s won the last two meetings on clay, he beat Ferrer this year on a hard court, and he’s been on fire all year. Nadal just beat Berdych in Madrid (he consistently does so with a 7-0 clay court h2h), thus it seems pretty inevitable that we’re headed for a Djokovic vs. Nadal final in Rome.
Djokovic d. Nadal
Djokovic defeated Nadal in Monte Carlo this year 7-5 6-3, and though Nadal is slightly better since that loss, he’s still not up to the same level he was, thus Djokovic should have the edge in a best 2/3 sets format. Nadal is capable of flashes of brilliance and plenty of hotshots in this classic rivalry, but Djokovic has the consistency to earn the win right now.