Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils are set for a rematch of their wild 2010 French Open match on Wednesday in Nice. John Isner is also looking for a place in the quarterfinals as he battles Robin Haase.
(6) Fabio Fognini vs. (WC) Gael Monfils
Fognini and Monfils will be squaring off for the third time in their careers when they clash in round two of the Open de Nice Cote d’Azur on Wednesday. The head-to-head series stands at 1-1, with Fognini having won their only previous clay-court encounter. After Monfils cruised 6-2, 6-4 on the hard courts of Madrid in 2008, Fognini survived a memorable, darkness-marred French Open showdown 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 9-7 in 2010.
Monfils is a shadow of the Top 10 player he once was, mainly due to myriad injuries. The 109th-ranked Frenchman, however, may finally be regaining some form. He captured the Bordeaux Challenger title on Sunday and he won his Nice opener 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 over Santiago Giraldo. Fognini registers just five spots off his career-high ranking at No. 29 in the world. The sixth-seeded Italian, a recent semifinalist in Monte-Carlo, kicked off his week by overcoming qualifier Marco Cecchinato 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 on Tuesday. Fognini has cooled off a bit since last month and with Monfils playing at home, the fans should get the result they want as long as their man is not feeling ill effects from a lot of tennis over the last few days.
Pick: Monfils in 3
Robin Haase vs. (4) John Isner
Haase and Isner have also split two previous meetings heading into their second-round date on Wednesday in Nice. This is their first matchup on clay after Haase scored a 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 victory on the indoor hard courts of Basel in 2010 followed by a 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 Isner triumph a few months later in Auckland. Not surprisingly, Isner has won both of their previous tiebreakers. The 6’9” American is one of the best tiebreaker players in the world, whereas Haase has currently lost a record 17 consecutive ‘breakers at the ATP main-draw level.
The Dutchman did well to avoid any such situations on Monday when he raced through Marinko Matosevic 6-1, 6-4. Haase is still a relatively poor 10-13 for the season. Isner, who earned a first-round bye as the No. 4 seed, is a modest 13-11. The world No. 21 captured the Houston title last month but on European clay he has compiled a disappointing 1-3 record. Isner is not playing well enough to dominate this one, but with the way Haase is playing tiebreakers right now this is just about the worst matchup the underdog could ask for.
The French Open is one week away, which is good news for the tennis world but bad news for the pair of tune-up events in Nice and Dusseldorf. Pre-Grand Slam fields always leave a lot to be desired, and these are no exceptions. Not too surprisingly, every single player in the Top 10 is resting for Roland Garros (Tomas Berdych had been entered in Nice but he withdrew following a semifinal finish in Rome).
On the bright side for local tournament-goers, however, their countrymen will have great opportunities for success this week. In Nice, Gilles Simon is the highest-ranked player in the draw and Gael Monfils is coming off a Challenger title on the clay courts of Bordeaux. In Dusseldorf, Tommy Haas and Philipp Kohlschreiber are two of the top title favorites.
Open de Nice Cote d’Azur
Where: Nice, France Prize money: 467,800 Euros Top seed:Gilles Simon (No. 1 seed Tomas Berdych withdrew) 2012 champion:Nicolas Almagro (not playing)
Draw analysis: Now that Berdych is out of the tournament, this could be the most lopsided draw of the year–and that includes what we just saw in Rome. The bottom half features Simon, Monfils, John Isner, Andreas Seppi, Fabio Fognini, Lleyton Hewitt, and Pablo Andujar. Simon and Seppi are on course for a quarterfinal collision while Isner has a first-round bye in what looks like a rough third section of the bracket. Monfils and Fognini could have a rematch of their memorable 2012 French Open five-setter as early as the second round, with the winner to possibly face Isner in the last eight. The big-serving American would first have to get past either Robin Haase or Marinko Matosevic.
As for the top half, it was already a borderline joke even before this weekend. Then Berdych pulled out and No. 8 seed Denis Istomin got blown out by Ricardas Berankis, so it’s only Sunday afternoon and only two seeds remain. Sam Querrey has an outstanding draw in the second quarter, opening with one of two qualifiers before likely running into Berankis. At the top of the bracket, Montanes is in for Berdych. The Spaniard is part of a deep but unspectacular group seeking a completely up-for-grabs quarterfinal ticket. Other contenders include Marcel Granollers, Albert Ramos, Carlos Berlocq, and Paul-Henri Mathieu.
First-round upset alert: Paul-Henri Mathieu over (7) Marcel Granollers. Granollers has never lost to Mathieu in three matches, but of their last two meetings (both at the French Open, in 2010 and 2012), one ended in retirement and another went to five sets. Meanwhile, the Spaniard’s run to the Rome quarterfinals last week should not be overestimated. He played terribly before getting a retirement from Andy Murray and other than that he had a favorable draw that included Nikolay Davydenko, Jeremy Chardy, and even Benoit Paire (to whom he lost 6-1, 6-0). Even though Mathieu is in horrendous form at the moment, an upset is not out of the question–especially since he is playing at home in France.
Hot: Fabio Fognini, Albert Ramos
Cold: Paul-Henri Mathieu, Leonardo Mayer, Gael Monfils
Semifinal predictions: Carlos Berlocq over Sam Querrey and Andreas Seppi over Gael Monfils
Final: Seppi over Berlocq
Power Horse Cup
Where: Dusseldorf, Germany Prize Money: 467,800 Euros
Top Seed: Janko Tipsarevic Defending champion:Inaugural event
Draw analysis: The German fans cannot be too pleased with how the draw ceremony unfolded. Haas and Kohlschreiber, who have first-round byes as top four seeds, are in the same half of the draw along with an in-form Daniel Brands (Brands ousted fifth-seeded Lukas Rosol on Sunday). Kohlschreiber could face Brands in the quarters before a possible semifinal showdown against Haas. It’s not exactly a favorable draw for Haas from start to finish. Ivan Dodig would likely be a difficult first opponent and potential quarterfinal adversary Jarkko Nieminen has been playing stellar tennis in 2013 (including a five-set win over the German at the Australian Open).
Additional German misfortune in the top half of the bracket includes a matchup right off the bat between Tobias Kamke and Benjamin Becker. In such a wide-open part of the draw, either one of those two men could conceivably make a run–but one will be out even before the second round. With No. 1 seed Janko Tipsarevic in brutal form, Juan Monaco (who has emerged from a slump of his own) has to be a favorite to reach the final (along with Haas in the bottom half). Tipsarevic’s section presents a big chance for either Viktor Troicki or David Goffin, while Monaco may not have much trouble at any point in a weak second quarter.
First-round upset alert: Dmitry Tursunov over (8) Nikolay Davydenko. Davydenko is a perfect 5-0 in the head-to-head series and he has won 11 of 12 career sets against his fellow Russian. However, all five of their meetings came between 2004 and 2008–an era during which Davydenko was often in PlayStation mode. Now, of course, the 31-year-old is a shadow of his former self. Tursunov, 30, is by no means in the prime of his career after a whole host of injuries, but he is at least going in the right direction–unlike his opponent. The former world No. 20 owns 10 ATP-level wins this season and he recently advanced to the Barcelona third round as a qualifier.
Hot: Tommy Haas, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Daniel Brands
Cold: Janko Tipsarevic, Viktor Troicki, Nikolay Davydenko, Gilles Muller, Go Soeda, Evgeny Donskoy
Semifinal predictions: Juan Monaco over David Goffin and Tommy Haas over Daniel Brands
Final: Monaco over Haas
Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!
The 30th installment of the Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer rivalry will take place on Sunday in Rome. A two-team panel offers differing opinions on Federer’s chances to pull off the upset and capture his first Rome title.
Ricky: Nadal and Federer will be squaring off for the 30th time in their careers when they collide in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Sunday. The head-to-head series stands at a dominant 19-10 in Nadal’s favor, including 12-2 on clay. The Spaniard has won their last three clay-court encounters dating back to 2010 and he also cruised through their previous 2013 encounter 6-4, 6-2 in the Indian Wells quarterfinals. Federer was clearly hampered by a back injury in their desert duel, but–although we will never know–based on their respective form at the time it probably would not have mattered.
Speaking of current form, Nadal’s comeback this year from a seven-month layoff is going better than anyone could have possibly expected. The world No. 5 boasts a 35-2 record for his 2013 campaign and he already owns an outrageous five titles–including last week in Madrid. Nadal, whose only blemishes have come in his first tournament (in the Vina del Mar final to Horacio Zeballos) and to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, picked up the pace on Saturday in Rome. After requiring three sets to get past both Ernests Gulbis and David Ferrer, he erased Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 17 minutes. Federer cruised past Potito Starace and Gilles Simon before getting more serious tests from Jerzy Janowicz and Benoit Paire. The Swiss is still just 18-5 for the season, the modesty of that record due in part to a two-month break after Indian Wells.
The bottom line is that this is a bad, bad matchup for Federer. Nadal’s heavy topspin forehand is a killer against vulnerable one-handed backhands and his lefty serve works to perfection against this particular opponent. On this surface, of course, all of Nadal’s strengths exploit Federer’s weaknesses to an ever greater extent. While the Federer-Nadal rivalry is arguably the best in tennis history, it is becoming all too predictable these days. Nadal will always win on clay or a slow hard court, while Federer will always win on a fast hard court–especially indoors. Nothing we have seen in Rome suggests such a trend is about to end. Nadal 6-3, 6-3.
Chris Skelton: By now, we all know how the Federer-Nadal script unfolds, especially on clay. Rafa slathers his lefty forehand with topspin to break down Roger’s lovely but fragile one-handed backhand, and he saves whatever break points he faces with kick serves into the ad court to the aforementioned backhand. Moreover, Federer cannot match Nadal’s consistency from the baseline on the sport’s slowest surface and the Swiss contributes to his opponent’s cause by going for too much too soon during points. Many fans can repeat all this information like a catechism by now. Yawn. Why bother watching the Rome final unless you’re an insatiable Rafaholic who never gets tired of seeing your man do his clay thing?
But I still think that there are reasons to watch for the Fedfans out there. First of all, Nadal’s dominance in their rivalry on clay (and, it has to be said, overall) obscures the fact that they have played plenty of competitive, engaging matches on the surface. Federer often takes a set, including in four of their five Roland Garros meetings, and their only previous final in Rome was a classic that ended in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Granted, 2006 in the world of tennis feels only slightly more recent than the Second World War, but Federer also won sets in both of their 2011 meetings on the surface.
Among the keys to the world No. 3′s fortunes against Nadal is the quality of his serve, the shot with which he needs to win free points that compensate for the Spaniard’s advantage in longer rallies. Federer has served extremely well this tournament, dropping only two service games in four matches. The back ailment that contributed to Rafa’s rout in their meeting at Indian Wells this spring appears to have subsided, allowing him to regain his usual pace on that shot. Federer’s movement and footwork also have looked crisp all week, when he has produced penetrating shots on the run along and transitioned skillfully from defense to offense.
Moreover, the cavalcade of unseeded opponents whom the second seed has defeated in straight sets has not forced him to exert much energy. Federer will arrive at the final fresher than Nadal, who has played two three-setters in Rome before the final for the first time since 2005. The Spaniard looked vulnerable in dropping a 6-1 set to Gulbis with overly passive court positioning, and he lost a set to familiar punching bag Ferrer for the second straight week. Reaching finals at eight straight tournaments for the first time in his career, Nadal has played a huge quantity of tennis early in his comeback. Federer’s previous clay wins in this series came in finals at the last Masters 1000 tournament before Roland Garros, when fatigue had started to weigh down his arch rival. So I think that Federer certainly could make this final more competitive and compelling than it looks at first glance. Federer to win, though? That’s a bridge too far. Nadal 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are one win away each from a showdown in the Rome final. Nadal is going up Tomas Berdych on Saturday while Federer is facing Benoit Paire.
(6) Tomas Berdych vs. (5) Rafael Nadal
Berdych and Nadal will be doing battle for the 17th time in their careers and for the second time this season when they clash in the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Saturday. Nadal is dominating the head-to-head series 13-3, including 4-0 on clay. The Spaniard lost three of his first four meetings with Berdych, but he has since won 12 in a row–including two months ago via a 6-4, 7-5 decision in the Indian Wells semifinals. Berdych, who has not beaten Nadal since 2006, has lost nine consecutive sets to his nemesis on the slow stuff since winning their first such set in the 2005 Bastad final.
In that sense, Nadal appears to be a dominant force–however, he has been anything but that this week in Rome. The defending champion needed two hours and 37 minutes to overcome Ernests Gulbis 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 on Thursday before holding off David Ferrer 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 after two hours and 46 minutes in the quarterfinals. Nadal, who opened his title defense with a blowout of Fabio Fognini, is now 34-2 for the season and 39-2 lifetime at this tournament. Berdych cannot be too excited about facing this particular opponent, but he did not exactly have a favorable history against Novak Djokovic heading into Friday’s quarters, either. The sixth-ranked Czech seemed to be well on his way to a 14th loss in 15 tries against the Serb when he trailed 6-2, 5-2, but the underdog stormed back for an improbable 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 triumph. Berdych, who preceded that big win with straight-set scalps of Denis Istomin and Kevin Anderson, owns a 29-9 record for his 2013 campaign.
Interestingly, Berdych actually has the exact kind of game that should trouble Nadal–a huge serve, flat and powerful groundstrokes that can bulldoze their way through any court, and a two-handed backhand that can comfortably handle high balls. The No. 6 seed’s movement, however, can be and always has been exposed by Nadal–especially on clay. Berdych is playing well enough right now to win this, but it’s hard to imagine him having that necessary belief based on his recent struggles against Nadal.
Pick: Nadal 7-6(6), 6-3
Benoit Paire vs. (2) Roger Federer
Federer and Paire will be squaring off for the third time in their careers and for the second time this season on Saturday. Both of their previous encounters have gone Federer’s way; 6-2, 6-2 last fall in Basel and 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 in the first round of this year’s Australian Open. Paire, though, is playing arguably the best tennis of his professional life at the moment. The 36th-ranked Frenchman already owns 18 of his 50 ATP-level match victories in 2013. So far in Rome he has taken out Juan Monaco, Julien Benneteau, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Marcel Granollers (he lost a total of just one game to Granollers).
This also happens to be Federer’s best tournament of the season. The third-ranked Swiss took time off after Indian Wells and he fell to Kei Nishikori in the Madrid third round, but he is back in fine form this week. Federer has not dropped a single set in dismissals of Potito Starace, Gilles Simon, and Jerzy Janowicz. Paire has the talent to hang with anyone, but he has to dictate play in order to do so because his backhand is by far his best shot and his forehand can be exploited when he does not have control of rallies. Federer is a master at serve placement and groundstroke accuracy, so this does not bode well for the underdog. Facing Federer is a bad matchup for almost anyone, but it is an especially bad one for Paire.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are one round away from a semifinal showdown in Rome. Standing in their ways on Friday are Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer.
(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (6) Tomas Berdych
Djokovic and Berdych will be meeting for the 15th time in their careers when they do battle in the quarterfinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Friday afternoon. The head-to-head series stands at a lopsided 13-1 in Djokovic’s favor, including a perfect 9-0 for the Serb since the start of the 2010 season. They have faced each other once on clay, an encounter that resulted in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 Djokovic victory at the 2012 Monte-Carlo Masters. Djokovic, who has never met Berdych on clay aside from that one showdown, is 2-0 in the series already this season.
The world No. 1 is 28-3 for the year, which features a Grand Slam title in Melbourne plus triumphs in Dubai and Monte-Carlo. He lost his Madrid opener to Grigor Dimitrov but has bounced back nicely this week with straight-set scalps of Albert Montanes and Alexandr Dolgopolov. Berdych booked his spot in the last eight thanks to straight-set dismissals of Denis Istomin and familiar foe Kevin Anderson. The sixth-ranked Czech, coming off a semifinal showing in Madrid, is 28-9 for the season. No surface favors Berdych in this matchup, but he would prefer to play it on a faster one to avoid a host of baseline battles. Djokovic should have too much consistency and confidence at an event that he won in 2011.
Pick: Djokovic in 2
(4) David Ferrer vs. (5) Rafael Nadal
Ferrer and Nadal will be squaring off for the 23rd time in their careers and for the third time this season when they collide on Friday. Nadal is dominating the head-to-head series 18-4, including 15-1 on clay. The former world No. 1 has won 15 matches in a row against Ferrer on the slow stuff since losing their first-ever encounter on the red clay of Stuttgart back in 2004. As for their 2013 meetings, Nadal rolled 6-0, 6-2 in the Acapulco final before battling past Ferrer 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-0 in last week’s Madrid quarters.
This one almost did not come to fruition because Nadal had a serious scare against familiar foe Ernests Gulbis on Thursday. Rome’s defending champion and No. 5 seed recovered from a first-set breadstick to beat Gulbis 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 after two hours and 37 minutes. Nadal, owner of five titles already this year, is 33-2 for his 2013 campaign and 38-2 lifetime at this event. Ferrer, by contrast, got a third-round walkover from an ill Philipp Kohlschreiber. That was preceded by another all-Spanish affair on Wednesday, which went Ferrer’s way 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 over Fernando Verdasco. Ferrer is 31-8 for the season, which includes a relatively surprising runner-up finish in Miami.
While Ferrer showed last week in Madrid that he can be competitive in this matchup, the result also showed that it is hard for the underdog to get entirely over the hump (he was two points from victory in the second set). Furthermore, Nadal has always been far better in Rome than he is amidst the high-altitude conditions of Madrid. Unless Nadal is not moving 100 percent due to knee issues or fatigue, this should be straightforward.
Jerzy Janowicz will get his first-ever shot at Roger Federer on Friday in Rome. The winner will be through to a favorable semifinal matchup against either Benoit Paire or Marcel Granollers.
Roger Federer and Jerzy Janowicz will be going head-to-head for the first time in their careers when they meet in the quarterfinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Friday night.
Both players are still on course for their best result of the season this week. Federer, who is in search of his first 2013 title, reached semifinals at the Australian Open and in Dubai then took two months off after a quarterfinal loss to Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells. The third-ranked Swiss lost his second match in Madrid to Kei Nishikori, but he has been extremely impressive in Rome blowouts of Potito Starace and Gilles Simon.
Janowicz went into this week with a disappointing 10-9 record for his 2013 campaign, which included only two tournaments (the Australian Open and Marseille) in which he won back-to-back matches. The 24th-ranked Pole, though, is making an inspired run in Rome that evokes memories of his surprise runner-up finish last fall at the Paris Masters. Janowicz opened with a victory over Santiago Giraldo before taking out Top 10 Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet.
Although his game is better suited for a fast hard court, Janowicz is showing an impressive ability to hit through clay while also showcasing his deft touch. The Federer of this season’s first few months would be ripe for an upset, but the Federer of Rome looks like a different story. A competitive contest has to be expected given the underdog’s form in Rome, but Federer’s previous two rounds were just what the doctor ordered for his reemerging confidence.