While the high-octane action at the Madrid Masters was in full swing, with Roger Federer dramatically losing to Dominic Thiem after holding match points, the organizers of the Rome Masters quietly released the draw for the last major tune-up before Roland Garros. Or as quietly as you can when you have a full-blown ‘draw ceremony’ for it anyway.
Incidentally, the big news from the ceremony was centered on those same two men who were raucously battling it out in the Magic Box of Madrid. Federer’s name is present in the Rome draw, which negates his earlier stance that he would play only Madrid and Roland Garros during the clay season. And Thiem has landed in a highly unfortunate section of the draw, making his wildcard status even wilder than usual.
Here’s a detailed look at the four quarters of the men’s draw, and how things might be expected to pan out:
First quarter: Normal service resumed, led by the World No 1
This quarter has an ‘order being restored’ feel to it. Djokovic headlines it as expected, by virtue of being the No 1-ranked player in the world, but he has also now started playing like the top dog – if his Madrid run is any indication. In addition to Djokovic, the war-wounded Slam champions Juan Martin del Potro and Stan Wawrinka, who are both seemingly rounding into shape ahead of the year’s second Major, also find themselves here.
Djokovic starts against either Denis Shapovalov or Pablo Carreno Busta, and could face a familiar foe in Marco Cecchinato or Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round. Seventh seed Del Potro is much less fortunate; he will clash against either Wawrinka or Goffin right off the bat.
The Argentine is probably not looking too far ahead of that match given that he’s only just returned from injury. But this would’ve been a brutal draw for him even if he was fully match-fit; playing against Wawrinka (who is coming off a quarterfinal finish in Madrid) is never anybody’s idea of a party.
Daniil Medvedev lurks as a threat too in this quarter, while Alex de Minaur (pitted against Cecchinato first up) continues his comeback from injury.
Quarter-final prediction: Novak Djokovic def. Stan Wawrinka
Dark horse: Marco Cecchinato
First-round match to watch: Nick Kyrgios vs Daniil Medvedev
Second quarter: Can Alexander Zverev hold on to his top 4 ranking?
One of the most significant points of interest this clay season has been the race to determine the two players who will join Djokovic and Nadal as the top four seeds at Roland Garros. While Federer seems to have sewn up the No 3 ranking with his Madrid performance, Zverev and Thiem are locked in a tight contest for the No 4 slot.
If Zverev wants to hold on to his current No 4 ranking, he needs a good result at Rome. He has already lost a ton of points by failing to defend his Madrid title from last year, and he has another 600 points to defend as the 2018 Rome runner-up.
The signs are certainly positive for him, as he put up a commendable performance against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Madrid quarter-final. His draw is not too harsh either; he starts against either Matteo Berrettini or Lucas Pouille, and could face Gael Monfils or Diego Schwartzman after that.
At the other end of the quarter is Kei Nishikori, who needs a good result himself. He could have a tricky opener against Guido Pella, who is enjoying a fabulous claycourt season, and will likely face one of Grigor Dimitrov, Jan-Lennard Struff or Marin Cilic in the third round.
Cilic had to withdraw from his Madrid quarterfinal due to food poisoning though, and it is unclear whether he’ll play in Rome.
Quarter-final prediction: Kei Nishikori def. Alexander Zverev
Dark horse: Gael Monfils
First-round match to watch: Grigor Dimitrov vs Jan-Lennard Struff
Third quarter: The “will he, won’t he” section
Federer’s return to clay after three years had been billed as an event unto itself, and the legend didn’t disappoint in Madrid. His thrilling encounters against Monfils and Thiem had the entire tennis world on the edge of their seats, with the first set against Thiem being widely hailed as a masterclass in how to play tennis on your own terms.
The message is clear: Federer is going to play on clay like it is grass, shortening the points with quick strikes and attacking the net with gusto. And based on his Madrid showing, he might even have some success with that strategy.
But what is not clear yet is whether the Swiss is even going to play in Rome. Although he has entered his name in the draw, he said after the Madrid quarter-final that he’ll “decide over the weekend” about his participation.
If Federer withdraws, the quarter will likely take on a lopsided look, and the biggest beneficiary will be Tsitsipas. The Greek has found his clay feet, as evidenced by his Madrid run, and would have a clear path to the semifinals if Federer’s spot is taken up by a qualifier or lucky loser.
Fabio Fognini, who faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round, looms as a potential third-round obstacle for Tsitsipas, and Borna Coric a possible challenger after that. But Coric has to contend with Felix Auger-Aliassime in a mouth-watering opener; the young Canadian has certainly proven this year that he is no pushover.
Quarterfinal prediction: Stefanos Tsitsipas def. Borna Coric
Dark horse: Fabio Fognini
First-round match to watch: Borna Coric vs Felix Auger-Aliassime
Fourth quarter: Why draw gods, why?
With Zverev precariously holding on to his No 4 ranking, Thiem was bound to get the short end of the straw sooner or later. And the hammer blow has been struck in Rome; he and Nadal, arguably the two best claycourters in the world right now, have been drawn in the same quarter.
There’s nothing much to be done in this scenario except hope that the two win their early round matches so that we at least get a blockbuster quarter-final, if not a semi-final or a final. But that might be easier said than done, considering Thiem could face Fernando Verdasco in his very first match and Karen Khachanov after that. The Austrian might also be feeling a bit of fatigue after all the heavy lifting (and hitting) he’s been doing the last couple of weeks in Barcelona and Madrid.
Nadal, on the other hand, has a smoother road to the quarters; his first opponent is likely to be Jeremy Chardy, after which he could face one of Laslo Djere, Marton Fucsovics or Nikoloz Basilashvili. That’s not a lineup of players likely to scare a player who has won this event a staggering eight times.
In any case, Nadal has shown signs of returning to his ferocious claycourt best in Madrid. Rome might be just the platform he is looking for to fully spread his wings again.
Quarter-final prediction: Rafael Nadal def. Dominic Thiem
Dark horse: Fernando Verdasco
First-round match to watch: Marton Fucsovics vs Nikoloz Basilashvili
Semifinal predictions: Novak Djokovic def. Kei Nishikori, Rafael Nadal def. Stefanos Tsitsipas
Final prediction: Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: May 11, 2019 10:42:02 IST