Rome Underway + Madrid Takeaway

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Rome is well underway so let’s set this little table of tennis for the next two weeks, as Roland Garros rears its head; of course, we’re going to assess some of the hay we have in the barn from Madrid as well.

Nadal should be back on form minus the altitude and quicker clay of Madrid. One could certainly see him finally struggle against someone with belief and more offense. The court, per history, complicates the Spaniard.

Nadal’s draw here looks interesting, but he shouldn’t have much trouble and we have to see him coming-out on top if he plays Thiem again in this week’s QF. Thiem winning here certainly would create all kinds of noise going into Paris, but my American wager would be on Nadal at this point.

He shouldn’t have much resistance from Verdasco/Dzumhur, nor the winner of Haase, who’s playing pretty well, and Shapovalov/Berdych. Denis made a really nice showing in Madrid, obviously, before his SF match, so seeing him make a R16 v Nadal would be a solid development of the player and the tournament.

For Thiem to get to the QF, he needs to beat Fognini, which will have some decent back-and-forth though we have to assume Thiem can get through there.  That should punch his ticket to the showdown with Nadal — but again I see the Spaniard survive Thiem in Rome.

That next quarter contains Djokovic; naturally, after his beat-down of Dolgopolov today, anticipation once again surfaces. I have been guilty of sharing the shreds of optimism we might find, only to add to the championship depth on tour.

Unfortunately, the Ukrainian isn’t much of a test, in general, and he’s in Rome having played only one match since Melbourne. We’ll have to wait on real optimism, but a win is a win for Novak. His ROS continues to show it’s teeth, which makes him always very dangerous and the serve looks better. Here’s the problem, however. He’s not fit enough, imho, to get into a real war out there. I hope he’s simply making the progress that he should be from week to week, but the body language still seems to illustrate a lack of match play and some kind of deeper physical change or approach in his life.

Time and play will tell.

He certainly has a nice draw — a weak bracket with some marquee value in Dimitrov, Nishikori, Sock and Isner. Kohlschreiber plays Sock following the German’s nice win over Khachanov today. As you know, I appreciate Philipp’s professionalsim; the call echoed his consistency, pointing out a bit hyperbolically (and somewhat accurately) that he’s been ranked 28th for about 28 years. Seriously, though, he’s been very consistent throughout his career.

But that quarter is winnable for Nole if he’s starting to find that rhythm. Sure a Novak v Rafa SF would be good. More importantly, we get to see Novak continue this bizarre comeback. Progress has to be all anyone can really hope to anticipate 😉

In the bottom half, let’s say the Madrid champ who’s also the defending Rome champ should be quite the handful. Nonetheless, feast your eyes on that R16 match between Zverev and Edmund. The Brit is starting to find some real weaponry on clay. He had a tough one today against the saavy Jaziri; as they split the first two, Edmund seized control with some serious ball striking, especially from that FH side. He’s confident; that R16 could be quite good.

Goffin we suspect should make a better showing, looking to find perhaps Del Potro in that bracket’s R16 with the winner getting Zverev most likely in that last quarter. Interesting match tomorrow (first round) is Coric v Tsitsipas. Hope I’m around to catch some of that spirited spring clay court tennis.

The third quarter, I skipped, identifies Cilic, Schwartzman, Paire, and Anderson. Not too much going-on in there. For what it’s worth, Johnson, the American, took-out everyone’s second favorite Swiss. Indeed, Wawrinka, making his comeback, fell in the first round in straights. The American is decent on clay, but Stan, seemingly with Norman in his box, looks slow and rusty.

We’ll make more sense in a couple of days. I found myself watching a bunch of tennis today and some very interesting match-ups continue tomorrow. As much as we like to talk about defense on clay, a co-existing theme is those with offense show quite well in these conditions, too. In other words, it’s still tennis.

The American Tiafoe looked totally outclassed by a hometown boy in Berrettini, who simply had more commitment in his shots, in the big points, defending serve, and making offense. Tiafoe, on the other hand, seemed content to play a more neutral game, hitting his less threatening BH, making poor (inexperienced) decisions all over the court. The crowd, of course, loved the match, which certainly helped the Italian; but this difference in commitment became more and more obvious.

This is the story-line as we look back at Madrid and ahead in these early matches in Rome.

The more offensive play advances, especially in the Bo3. Thiem, Shapovalov, Sascha, Edmund and even a Coric show this kind of higher risk tennis that can make hay on clay. Do they have enough to challenge the master? Probably not as the conditions slow and become heavier. But this younger crew, which took Madrid by storm, hopefully continues to make these matches so much fun to watch.

Sure the Schwartzman-like, higher margin style probably enjoys a bit more consistent play, but this more attacking, free swinging, higher risk tennis has our tennis senses beaming.

To beat a Nadal, you do need a moon ball, the movement to retrieve, and the creativity to survive (along with a solid serve), but the ability to hit through the court, find sharp angles and depth and pace might be the real championship particulars.

Enjoy the tennis!

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