10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Ricky’s Picks and Previews for the Rome Masters ATP Tennis • Nadal Hoping to get Back on Track

Rafael Nadal has won a record nine Rome titles. EPA-EFE/Alejandro Garcia

By Ricky Dimon

The Internazionali BNL d’Italia actually happened last year, but it came in the fall following the U.S. Open. This time around it occupies a much more traditional spot on the calendar, toward the end of the spring clay-court swing with the French Open on the horizon. Defending champion Novak Djokovic is back after skipping the Madrid Masters, joined in an absolutely loaded field by Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, and Andrey Rublev.

Internazionali BNL d’Italia

Where: Rome, Italy
Surface: Clay
Top seed: Novak Djokovic
Defending champion: Novak Djokovic

Nadal may have battled to the Barcelona title last month, but the pressure will be on in Rome as he tries to pick up some real momentum in advance of the French Open. After lifting the Barcelona trophy, Nadal–who lost to Rublev in Monte-Carlo–got blown off the court by Zverev in the Madrid quarterfinals. However, Rome conditions are far more favorable for the Spaniard and his draw also appears to be a good one. Jannik Sinner would be a rough second-round opponent, but Nadal’s half is home to Medvedev as opposed to Thiem. Although Zverev is in Nadal’s quarter, the German may be fatigued following his run to the Madrid final.

The other section in the bottom half is ridiculously wide open, as Medvedev and Diego Schwartzman are without question the two weakest top-eight seeds in the bracket. Among those looking to take advantage will be Hubert Hurkacz, David Goffin, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Aslan Karatsev, and Lorenzo Musetti. Musetti’s true breakthrough on tour came last fall in Rome and thanks to his draw the 19-year-old Italian has another great chance to make some noise in front of the home crowd.

Andrey Rublev knocked Rafael Nadal of Spain out of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters quarterfinals. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER

The Medvedev-Schwartzman quarter leaves an absolute embarrassment of riches in the top half of the draw. Djokovic will have to contend with the likes of Tsitsipas, Thiem, and Rublev. If the seeds hold to form, the quarterfinals would pit Djokovic against Tsitsipas and Thiem against Rublev. The top-ranked Serb won’t be looking ahead, though, because he may have to kick off his week against Dan Evans. They just faced each other in Monte-Carlo and Evans pulled off an improbable 6-4, 7-5 upset.

Djokovic’s section also features an intriguing first-round showdown between Matteo Berrettini and Nikoloz Basilashvili. Berrettini currently finds himself in the Madrid title match, while Basilashvili has already captured two titles in 2021.

First-round upset possibility
: (WC) Lorenzo Musetti over (15) Hubert Hurkacz. Musetti has cooled off a bit of late, but a return to Rome may be just what the doctor ordered. The teenager is a force on clay, and the same cannot be said of Hurkacz. Somewhat understandably given the enormity of the occasion, Hurkacz has struggled since winning the Miami Masters. It doesn’t help that the Pole is now playing on clay, which is less conducive to his game than hard courts. In reality, Musetti probably has to be considered the favorite in this one.

Quarterfinal picks: Stefanos Tsitsipas over Novak Djokovic, Andrey Rublev over Dominic Thiem, Aslan Karatsev over Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Rafael Nadal over Pablo Carreno Busta

Semifinals: Rublev over Tsitsipas and Nadal over Karatsev

Final: Nadal over Rublev

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.