ATP Rome: Internazionali BNL d'Italia preview

Following on from the Madrid Masters, Rome takes place and is the last Masters on clay with players aiming for match fitness and form ahead of the second Grand Slam of the year, Roland Garros.

ATP Rome: Internazionali BNL d'Italia preview
Defending champion Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic come in as the number one and two ranked players respectively (Photo: Getty Images)

Defending champion Andy Murray arrives as the world number one. Despite his world ranking, the Brit has struggled this year. In Madrid, he fell to Borna Coric, who became the first Lucky Loser to make the quarterfinalist. At the Australian Open, Murray lost to Mischa Zverev in the third round and his form did not improve in the Masters.

In Indian Wells, he was handed a surprise loss to Vasek Pospisil in his opening match, while withdrawing from Miami due to injury, losing to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Monte-Carlo. Now, as the defending champion, Murray must regain his form that saw him lift the title last year.

After announcing that he would not take part in any upcoming Clay tournaments until Roland Garros, Roger Federer is just one of three noticeable absentees from the top 20. Along with the Swiss, Gael Monfils and his French compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also announced their withdrawal from the prestigious tournament. 

First Quarter

Top seed and defending Rome champion Andy Murray has struggled to live up to the world number one ranking and having fallen to Borna Coric in Madrid last week, he will be hoping to gain match rhythm and sharpness ahead of Roland Garros. The Brit begins his title defense against either clay-court specialist Fabio Fognini or local wildcard Matteo Berrettini, who makes his first ever appearance at an ATP main draw. 

Should he get past the Fognini, Murray would then face either Viktor Troicki or Alexander Zverev and on this surface, both could cause the Scotsman a headache. Especially with Zverev who comes in on the back of good form following lifting the Munich Open trophy and making the quarterfinals in Madrid. 

Milos Raonic the fifth seed has an excellent opportunity to put together a decent run. His second round match-up will be against either Ivo Karlovic and Tommy Haas, both whose game does not suit the preferred Clay courts. Should Tomas Berdych then get past Mischa Zverev in the second round, Robin Haase or a qualifier in the second round, he could be on for a tricky time with the world number six. 

The Czech hasn't gone beyond the quarterfinals in a Masters since more than two years ago in Madrid and with Roland Garros just two weeks away, he will need to start putting in the performances. While despite not performing to his best this year, the Canadian did reach the semifinals or better in three of the Masters in 2016 and though not being suited to this surface, he can certainly on his day cause problems.

Quarterfinal: Alexander Zverev-Tomas Berdych

Semifinalist: Tomas Berdych

Tomas Berdych during the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters (Photo: Laurent Laiys/Getty Images)
Tomas Berdych during the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters (Photo: Laurent Lairys/Getty Images)

Second Quarter

Third seed Stan Wawrinka headlines the second quarter. The three-time Grand Slam Champion has had mixed performances in the first half of the year. At the Australian Open semifinals and the Indian Wells finals, the Swiss lost out twice to Roger Federer as well as last 16 losses in Miami and Monte Carlo Rolex Masters as well as a round two loss to Benoit Paire in Madrid. 

There is no doubt the 32-year-old can perform on this surface having won Roland Garros in 2015 and he could face Benoit Paire once again in the second round should the feisty Frenchman get past compatriot Nicolas Mahut. If he avenges his loss to Paire, a tasty third round match up on the cards against German Philipp Kohlschreiber or Albert Ramos-Vinolas, both capable of upsetting on their preferred surface. 

David Goffin, the ninth seed has a comfortable start at the Rome Masters. His opening round matchup will be against a qualifier. He then should face either Donald Young or Fernando Verdasco and although the Spaniard can play on this surface, the Belgium should progress. At the bottom of this section is the sixth-seeded Croatian Marin Cilic. The 28-year-old also has a comfortable start in Rome. 

He begins his campaign against Ryan Harrison, a player who for most of his career has struggled on clay but his recent run at the Portuguese Open, which should give him confidence. However, expect the Croatian to advance. Lying in his way in the third round is the ever-tricky Goffin. The Belgium is enduring a fantastic season having broken into the top ten and can certainly give the Croat a run for his money in a tough section of the draw. 

Quarterfinal: Stan Wawrinka-David Goffin

Semifinalist: Stan Wawrinka

Stan Wawrinka displays his majestic backhand *Photo: Laurent Lairys
Stan Wawrinka displays his majestic backhand *Photo: Laurent Lairys

Third Quarter

Fourth seed and seven-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal is at the bottom and headlines a tough section. He receives a bye into the second round and could face Andreas Seppi, who plays a qualifier. A third round match for the Spaniard could be Jack Sock if the American can get past Diego Schwartzman then Dan Evans or tricky Jiri Vesely.

The Spaniard, with his clay-court pedigree, should have no problems advancing to the quarterfinals and beyond. The Spaniard has currently won more than 50 titles on clay and always comes in as the favorite, which makes no exceptions here. 

However, Dominic Thiem could stand in his way. The eighth seed has a bye and could face underdog Pablo Cuevas, who has a knack for winning trophies and causing the odd upset on this surface. Aussie Bernard Tomic ha struggled all season to build up any momentum heading into the clay season and is almost certain to find it tough against Sam Querrey or Lucas Pouille his potential second round opponent. 

The Austrian could meet Lucas Pouille. Despite falling early in Madrid, the Frenchman has shown his capability on clay having won the Bucharest title just a couple of weeks ago and gaining two top ten wins in his short career to date. 

Quarterfinal: Dominic Thiem-Rafael Nadal

Semifinalist: Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal strikes a powerful forehand (Photo: NurPhoto)
Rafael Nadal strikes a powerful forehand (Photo: NurPhoto)

Fourth Quarter

Second seed Novak Djokovic headlines a packed section filled with talent all over. The Serbian begins his campaign against either wildcard Gianluca Mager or a qualifier. The round one match to watch features Nick Kyrgios against Roberto Bautista Agut, two players ranked firmly inside the world top 20 and capable of going blow for blow against the world's best. Also in this mini-section features the thirteenth seed Pablo Carreno Busta, Who shouldn't be taken lightly as he can perform to high standards. 

In Monte Carlo, he took Djokovic to three sets narrowly losing before going on to win the Portuguese Open. And although he fell to Paire in Madrid, the 25-year-old is capable of pulling a performance out the bag just like he so nearly did against Djokovic. The Serb will have to do it the hard way if he is to come through this section. 

At the top is seventh seed Kei Nishikori. The Japanese pulled out of his quarterfinal match against Djokovic sighting injury and though he has been advised to take a break, he is willing to participate with Roland Garros just two weeks away. He begins against two Spanish veterans in either former world number three David Ferrer or Feliciano Lopez. Coming in with an injury, he will be tested. 

Should he come through, his draw will not get any easier. Joao Sousa and Kyle Edmund face off, two players who are adapted to this surface. The winner of that will then face either tenth seed Grigor Dimitrov and Juan Martin del Potro in a popcorn round one clash. If Nishikori is to make the quarterfinals, he will have to be at his best with quality clay-courters in his way. 

Quarterfinal: Grigor Dimitrov-Novak Djokovic

Semifinalist: Novak Djokovic 

Novak Djokovic goes for a backhand shot (Photo: Laurent Lairys/Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic goes for a backhand shot (Photo: Laurent Lairys/Getty Images)

Semifinals: Stan Wawrinka def. Tomas Berdych, Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic

Final: Rafael Nadal def. Stan Wawrinka 

Tennis