Rome R2 previews and predictions: Murray vs. Fognini, Djokovic vs. Bedene

Still in desperate need of some momentum heading into the French Open, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will kick off their Rome campaigns on Tuesday. They are set for respective meetings with Fabio Fognini and Aljaz Bedene.

(1) Andy Murray vs. Fabio Fognini

Murray and Fognini will be squaring off for the sixth time in their careers when they clash in round two of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Tuesday night. The head-to-head series stands at 3-2 in Murray’s favor, but it is tied up at one win apiece on clay. Rome’s top seed got the job done 7-6(11), 6-4 at the 2009 Monte-Carlo Masters before Fognini dominated a 2014 Davis Cup rubber 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 with home-court advantage in Italy. They most recently faced each other at last summer’s Rio Olympics, where Murray prevailed 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 and eventually captured the gold medal.

That was part of a brilliant end to 2016 for the world No. 1, but this year has been a much different story. Murray, who turned 30 on Monday, is just 17-6 and 5-4 in his last nine matches. His clay-court swing is off to a slow start, with losses to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Monte-Carlo (third round), Dominic Thiem in Barcelona (semis), and Borna Coric in Madrid (third round). Fognini was the only player to take a set off Madrid champion Rafael Nadal last week, eventually succumbing 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4. The 29th-ranked Italian got back in action on Sunday and treated his fans to a 6-1, 6-3 rout of compatriot Matteo Berrettini. With Murray low on confidence and now forced to play in what will be a hostile environment against Fognini, his fuse could be a short one on Tuesday and his slump might just continue.

Pick: Fognini in 3

(Q) Aljaz Bedene vs. (2) Novak Djokovic

Djokovic’s woes extend way back to Wimbledon in 2016, when a third-round loss to Sam Querrey touched off a skid that helped allow Murray to win their duel to finish the year No. 1 in the world. The second-ranked Serb has not come close to recovering this season, with a 17-5 record and an 11-5 mark in his last five tournaments. Djokovic is coming off a semifinal showing in Madrid, but he benefited from a walkover courtesy of Kei Nishikori and then fell to Nadal 6-2, 6-4.

Up next for the No. 2 seed on Tuesday afternoon is a third career meeting with Bedene, who trails the head-to-head series 2-0. Djokovic cruised 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 at the 2015 Australian Open and 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 at last year’s French Open. Bedene, however, is playing some of the best tennis of his life right now and registers 10 spots off his career-high ranking at 55th in the world. The 27-year-old Brit went on a hot streak starting in mid-March during which he compiled a 23-1 record with three Challenger titles and a runner-up performance in Budapest. Bedene opened in Rome on Tuesday by getting a third-set retirement from Italian wild card Gianluca Mager. This is not going to be an easy one for Djokovic, but Madrid wins over Nicolas Almagro and Feliciano Lopez followed by a decent second against Nadal suggest he will at least be able to hold off Bedene.

Pick: Djokovic in 2

7 Comments on Rome R2 previews and predictions: Murray vs. Fognini, Djokovic vs. Bedene

  1. At least many will empathise with some of Rafa’s losses to an inspired player. Rafa has had his fair share of those. The funny thing is, Fog might lose his next match as so often happens.

    Murray did say at the beginning of the season that his main rival for #1 is Djokovic so I don’t think he lacks motivation at all. In his run of titles last year, Andy had a few close shaves so it was unlikely that he would be able to hold on to all those titles this season. He missed his chance to gain some points at the start of 2017 when he wasn’t defending many points so from now on, if he falls at RG, the only time he can gain points is in Canada and when his WTF 1500 points come off at the end of October his ranking will fall off a cliff.

  2. I highly doubt that Andy can hold on to his No 1 ranking – even if he runs a respectable RG campaign and defends his Wimbledon title. He has lost too many points already and has a prohibitive amount of points to defend in the second half of the season. And this season besides Novak, who isn’t doing all that well either, he has to contend with Rafa, Roger and a flock of eager next generation players.
    Andy profitted immensely last year from Rafa’s and Roger’s lack of form and later their absence, as well as from Novak’s sudden loss of form and motivation. That said, Andy’s run to the year-end No 1 spot was still an extraordinary feat and shouldn’t be belittled. He saw the opportunity and he took it with relentless energy. But circumstances have changed a lot in 2017 and a repeat is unlikely. Everything would have to fall his way from now on.

    • Yes, that’s what I had in mind. And I can’t begrudge Fabio his moment in the sun. Hopefully he makes the most of it. If Zwerev is his next opponent it will be tricky.

      • I think Fog will beat Zverev. Fog has far more tools in his box than Zverev if he puts his mind to it.

        • True. Especially on clay Fabio should be able to trump Zwerev. But with the Fog you never know…

  3. ROME (AP) — Andy Murray is going to the French Open with his game in tatters.

    The top-ranked Murray was eliminated by local favorite Fabio Fognini 6-2, 6-4 before a raucous crowd in his opening match at the Italian Open on Tuesday.

    Murray, meanwhile, has had a brief clay-court season, winning five matches (one by walkover), losing four, and failing to defend his Rome title.

    “The last couple of weeks has definitely been a struggle and a long way from where I would like to be,” Murray said.

    The French Open starts in less than two weeks.

    “I need to turn it around quick,” Murray said

    Italy’s top player at No. 29, Fognini frustrated Murray with drop shots.

    “Fabio did play some good drop shots, but I wasn’t actually making a move or a step towards the ball,” Murray said.

    The unpredictable Fognini led 5-1 in the second set and nearly let Murray force a third set with a series of errors but finally closed it out when he served for the match for a second time.

    Flavia Pennetta, Fognini’s wife and the 2015 U.S. Open champion, is expecting the couple’s first child any day.

    “My tournament could end any moment so I’ve got to enjoy this for now,” Fognini said.

    Fans at the Foro Italico chanted for Fognini as if they were at a soccer match, and organizers blasted Neopolitan folk music over the stadium’s loudspeaker after his win.

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