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