Rafael Nadal will begin his bid for a fourth consecutive clay-court title when he opens in Rome against fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro on Wednesday. Juan Martin Del Potro and Kyle Edmund are also in second-round action.
(4) Rafael Nadal vs. (Q) Nicolas Almagro
Nadal and Almagro will be squaring off for the 16th time in their careers when they meet again in round two of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Wednesday. The head-to-head series stands at 14-1 in favor of Nadal, who is 10-1 at his compatriot’s expense on clay. Almagro’s lone victory came via a 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 decision three years ago at Barcelona, but the much more heralded Spaniard has since reeled off four wins in a row.
Speaking of strings of successive wins, Nadal is a perfect 15-0 on clay this season and has lifted three straight trophies in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid. The world No. 4 improved to 34-5 overall in 2017 when he defeated Dominic Thiem 7-6(8), 6-4 in last Sunday’s Madrid final. Almagro is no stranger to tough second-round draws at Masters 1000 tournaments; he lost to David Goffin at this stage in Monte-Carlo and to Novak Djokovic in the last 32 in Madrid (7-5 in the third set after leading 3-0). The world No. 73 evened his record at 8-8 this year by knocking out Italy’s own Andreas Seppi 7-6(6), 6-3 on Monday. Almagro is in fine form and Nadal struggled in his opening matches in both Monte-Carlo and Madrid, so this should be competitive–but it also won’t result in an upset.
Pick: Nadal in 2 losing 8-10 games
Juan Martin Del Potro vs. Kyle Edmund
Del Potro currently registers at 34th in the rankings, but a win over Grigor Dimitrov on Monday and at least one top 32 player (Roger Federer) withdrawing from the French Open means the Argentine is already in good shape for a seed at the season’s second Grand Slam. That is quite an accomplishment because Del Potro has played sparingly to preserve the health of his left wrist, but he has played well in his limited appearances. The 2009 U.S. Open champion is 8-4 this year (2-0 on clay) with a semifinal showing in Delray Beach and third-round finishes in Indian Wells and Miami.
Up next for Del Potro is a first-ever meeting with Edmund, who advanced on Monday by beating Joao Sousa 6-3, 6-4. The 53rd-ranked Brit took a set off Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Masters (no other opponent managed that feat), but he also got blown out by Thiem in Barcelona and suffered an awful loss in Estoril to Portuguese wild card Joao Domingues. Edmund’s lack of consistency is such that he will not have the upper hand in this battle of big forehands.
Pick: Del Potro in 2