Watch List: Nadal, Djokovic headline week in Rome that could be without some big names
ROME -- The draws for next week's Italian Open have been completed, but the biggest question is whether the big names in the draw will actually show up.
Serena Williams withdrew from the Madrid Open with a left thigh injury, leaving her participation in the tournament in doubt. As for the men, Novak Djokovic was spotted practicing at the Foro Italico on Saturday, but Roger Federer, who has been drawn into Djokovic's half, is still questionable after the birth of his twin boys last week.
Here's how the draws break down (note: The Madrid Open finals have yet to be played)
Rafael Nadal's half: After a spotty start to his clay season, Nadal looks to have found his mojo in Madrid this week, advancing to the final without losing a set. The top seeds in his half are Stanislas Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray, whom he could face in the quarterfinals. Berdych has a particularly tough section, as he could play Madrid semifinalist Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round, Grigor Dimitrov in the third round and Wawrinka in the quarterfinals. All for a shot at Rafa. The Czech may want to take a quick trip to the Vatican on Sunday.
Novak Djokovic's half: By all accounts it sounds like Djokovic is fit to play this week, after withdrawing from Madrid with a wrist injury. He should get a stern test against a series of quality Spanish clay-courters. He could face Pablo Andujar in the second round, Tommy Robredo in the third round and David Ferrer in the quarterfinals.
Djokovic's semifinal opponent could be Federer (again, if he shows up). The top seeds in Federer's section are Milos Raonic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fabio Fognini. A third-round clash against Fognini would undoubtedly be a must-watch match. Playing as the Italian No. 1 in front of his countrymen under the lights of the Foro Italico against Federer? Fognini was made for that stage.
First-round matches to watch: Ernests Gulbis vs. Kei Nishikori; Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Potential early-round matches to watch: John Isner vs. Marin Cilic (second round); Tomas Berdych vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (second round); Isner/Cilic vs. Andy Murray (third round); Tomas Berdych vs. Grigor Dimitrov (third round); Milos Raonic vs. Dolgopolov/Tsonga (third round); Roger Federer vs. Fabio Fognini (third round); David Ferrer vs. Nishikori/Gulbis (third round).
Prediction for final: Nadal d. Djokovic.
Serena Williams' half: It would be difficult to find a recent WTA draw at a top-tier tournament as lopsided as this one. Williams, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic and Petra Kvitova are in the top half, along with Dominika Cibulkova, Carla Suarez Navarro and Sloane Stephens.
If Serena plays, she has a potentially tricky path to defend her title. She could play Andrea Petkovic, Stephens, Kvitova and Sharapova just to get to the final. It's a tough path for anyone stuck in the top half, which has both Madrid finalists in the same quarter in Sharapova and Halep, as well as Ivanovic (who could face Sharapova in the third round) and Cibulkova.
Venus Williams also returns next week for her first tournament since the Family Circle Cup in early April. She plays Annika Beck in the first round.
Li Na's half: The weaker bottom half is full of opportunity for four players in particular: Li, Agnieszka Radwanska, Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Li looked good in making the quarterfinals of Madrid, where she lost in three sets to Sharapova, and the top players in her quarter -- Angelique Kerber, Sara Errani and Sabine Lisicki -- are all struggling with injury or form.
Jankovic and Kuznetsova are the only true clay-courters in the Radwanska section. After a series of poor results on clay, Jankovic needs a confidence-building run to have any hopes at the second week at the French Open. But the one to watch here is Kuznetsova, who had Radwanska on the ropes in Madrid but squandered three straight break points to lose in a third-set tiebreak. Despite the loss, the Russian is playing some good tennis. A deep run here and you can expect to see her name on the "dark horse" list for Roland Garros.
(Update: Caroline Wozniacki has withdrawn due to a knee injury.)
First-round matches to watch: Sabine Lisicki vs. Sam Stosur; Venus Williams vs. Annika Beck; Dominika Cibulkova vs. Camila Giorgi; Madison Keys vs. Allison Riske.
Potential early-round matches to watch: Serena Williams vs. Andrea Petkovic (second round); Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Venus Williams (second round); Madison Keys vs. Simona Halep (second round); Ana Ivanovic vs. Alize Cornet (second round); Jelena Jankovic vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (second round); Serena Williams vs. Sloane Stephens (third round); Petra Kvitova vs. Dominika Cibulkova (third round); Maria Sharapova vs. Ana Ivanovic (third round); Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Eugenie Bouchard (third round). Prediction for final: Sharapova d. Li.