Big Four is back in action; Serena, Halep lead women's field in Rome
As the Madrid Open comes to a close this weekend, Sunday starts yet another ATP Masters 1000 and a WTA Premier 5 tournament in Rome, Italy. No. 1 Novak Djokovic is back in action and leads the Big Four in the top seeds in the men's field, and for the women, eighteen of the top 20 are seeded in the tournament.
After skipping the Madrid Open to rest, No. 1 Novak Djokovic is back in action at his beloved Italian Open. Djokovic can struggle with crowd support given the entrenched fandoms backing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but the Romans treat him as one of their own. His Italian fluency and one-time sponsorship by Sergio Tacchini helped pave the way for that. The three-time champion will go for his fourth Masters title of the season. His top-half of the draw includes No. 3 Andy Murray, No. 5 Kei Nishikori and No. 7 David Ferrer, all of whom made the quarterfinals in Madrid. Djokovic could play Nishikori in the quarterfinals and either Murary or Ferrer in the semifinals.
The bottom half of the draw is topped by No. 2 seed Federer. The Swiss has taken two early losses at the two clay Masters events so far, losing to Gael Monfils in the third round in Monte Carlo and Nick Kyrgios in the second round of Madrid. Through three tournaments he has not beaten a Top 20 player on clay. His half of the draw includes No. 4 Nadal, No. 7 Tomas Berdych and No. 9 Stan Wawrinka. Also looming in the bottom half are Grigor Dimitrov, John Isner and Jack Sock.
One notable withdrawal: Milos Raonic. The No. 5 struggled with a long-standing nerve issue in his foot in Madrid.
Projected quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Nishikori, Murray vs. Ferrer, Nadal-Wawrinka, Federer-Berdych.
Notable first round matches: Nick Kyrgios vs. Feliciano Lopez, Ernests Gulbis vs. Jiri Vesely, Sam Querrey vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Jack Sock vs. Gilles Simon, Jerzy Janowicz vs. Grigor Dimitrov, Donald Young vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Eighteen of the Top 20 women are in Rome—for now. We could see some withdrawals as the players who made deep runs in Madrid—Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova—wait to see how their bodies recover. Once again Serena and Simona Halep are the top two seeds, with Halep looking to rebound from her surprising first round exit at the hands of Alize Cornet in Madrid. Halep is also trying to fend off Maria Sharapova for the No. 2 seed at the French Open. Neither woman has any points to defend in Rome, which means Sharapova will need to better Halep's result to best her in the rankings.
Serena has drawn Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic in the top half of the draw. Halep has drawn Kvitova, Eugenie Bouchard and Ekaterina Makarova. For the second straight week we see an unbalanced draw, with the top half jammed with some of the hottest players on tour. Of all the top seeds, Wozniacki drew the shortest straw, as she could face Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Azarenka played her best match of the season in Madrid, holding three match points against Serena in the third round. The winner of that match plays Stuttgart champion Angelique Kerber, with Sharapova looming in the quarterfinals and Serena in the semifinals.
Projected quarterfinals: Serena vs. Ivanovic, Sharapova vs. Wozniacki, Bouchard vs. Kvitova, Makarova vs. Bouchard.
Notable first round matches: Sloane Stephens vs. Sabine Lisicki, Karolina Pliskova vs. Timea Bacsinszky, Madison Keys vs. Madison Brengle, Venus Williams vs. Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina vs. Flavia Pennetta, Jelena Jankovic vs. Camila Giorgi.