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Beyond the Baseline

Passing Shots

Roger Federer Roger Federer in action at the Italian Open. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

ROME -- Random thoughts, observations, links and other goodies from the tennis world this week …

• I said it on Twitter and I'll say it again: Roger Federer's new haircut makes him look old. That said, the above photo is great.

Photos: The evolution of Federer's hair

• It sounds like the toughest competition in Rome isn't happening on the court, but at the gelato shops around town. "Yesterday I realized that I'm really glad I have a job because if I didn't I'd be obese and I'd be in debt," Maria Sharapova joked before the Italian Open. "It's just really good that I have something to do when I wake up in the morning. Because this city is really dangerous for the diet and the wallet and yesterday was not a good day for both."

• Serena Williams was, not surprisingly, much more colorful. I asked after her quarterfinal win whether she'd be taking a souvenir home. Her response? "Usually it ends up on my ass," she said with a cackle, referring to her penchant for gelato.

• Benoit Paire told me that he's not going to prepare for his potential semifinal match against Federer by eating pizza. "No, I will eat pasta," he said. "One pizza is not bad for me, but we will see."

• Count me in the camp that thinks it was admirable of Andy Murray to battle back from 1-4 down in the second set against Marcel Granollers to even the second-round match at a set apiece before retiring because of a back injury. He clearly wanted to silence the cynics who were going to assume that he retired simply because he was losing.

• A pregnant Kim Clijsters was in Rome hitting with and coaching her good friend Kirsten Flipkens, who lost in the first round.

http://instagram.com/p/ZSdmrHN5sy/

• Clijsters even gracefully hopped the fence (which Darren Cahill told me is a code violation) when requested for a coaching timeout.

http://instagram.com/p/ZS5pOqt5k9/

• An Italian journalist summoned the courage to ask Sharapova if her withdrawal Friday was related to the fact that it was Grigor Dimitrov's birthday the day before. It didn't go well.

• Tough luck for anyone scheduled to play on Courts 4 or 6 at the Foro Italico. Both are adjacent to the practice courts most frequented by the top players. Lisa Raymond/Laura Robson and Svetlana Kuznetsova/Flavia Pennetta had to stop their doubles match a number of times because of the crowd's reaction to Rafael Nadal's practice session. Minutes later, Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens played part of their second-round match through flashbulbs and "Roger! Roger! Roger!" chants when the Maestro took to a neighboring court.

• Stephens' face lit up when I told her that a British magazine rated her the ninth-most-marketable athlete in the world.

• Victoria Azarenka has been flying way under the radar in Rome. I can't decide if that's a good or a bad thing.

• You rarely get an expressive photo of Nadal's girlfriend, Xisca Perello. This is a great photo of Rafa's ladies (from left: his younger sister, Maria Isabel; his mother, Ana Maria; and Perello):

(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

• I always marvel at Italian fans' patriotism. The court was packed and loud last weekend when Federica Di Sarra, an Italian I've never heard of, took on Jamie Hampton in the first round of qualies. That support extended to the standing-room-only crowds for Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.

• Love this GIF of Serena from the Madrid Open trophy ceremony.

Serena's favorite TV show is ...

• Does anyone understand this Jo-Wilfried Tsonga promotional game? It sounds like something from the future.

• Bar chat: Better meltdown -- "HOW MANY TIMES????" or "THERE IS NO SPACE!!!"?

• Jelena Jankovic defeated Li Na 7-6 (2), 7-5 in a two-hour, 39-minute third-rounder, the longest two-set match of the year for the WTA. The match featured 29 break points, a 10-minute game and Jankovic's screaming like a banshee toward her box throughout. It was great.

• Raise your hand if you ever uttered the sentence: "Sara Errani? She's a top-five player, for sure." Liars, all of you.

• Serena Williams: Photo bomber. She told me she's annoyed that Venus didn't post all the pictures that Serena sneaked into. Apparently, there were a lot.

http://instagram.com/p/ZYZ5ffi9QQ/

http://instagram.com/p/ZYaNGdi9Qt/

• If Rome's Stadio Nicola Pietrangeli is the best No. 3 court in the world, SuperTennis Arena has to be one of the worst No. 2 courts (or any court) in the world. The pop-up stadium, with its metal walkways and uncomfortable plastic chairs, has zero ambiance, and the crowd, if there is one, is dead quiet. It's a tennis wasteland.

• Bar chat: Are Nadal's matches against David Ferrer actually enjoyable to watch?

• What an odd tournament for the Serbs. A streaking Ana Ivanovic loses in the first round, Novak Djokovic collapses in the quarterfinals, Viktor Troicki loses his mind and Jankovic gets bageled and loses to a qualifier in the quarterfinals. Not so ajde.

• Nadal's snide dig at Ernests Gulbis after their quarterfinal, effectively saying that the 24-year-old Latvian was just bashing the ball, was very entertaining.

Q&A with Gulbis

• Question I'm struggling to answer: Regardless of her form, can Serena be considered the overwhelming French Open favorite when she hasn't made it past the quarterfinals since 2003?

• I spoke to Gulbis, Paire, Dimitrov and Jerzy Janowicz this week. So much personality and charisma in that quartet. The ATP will be better off when they can all win matches consistently to earn their time in the spotlight.

• This guy. What a show-off:

Roger Federer Roger Federer hits with children in Rome. (Felice Calabro'/AP)

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