This is it: the last big one before the big one.
The clay court season has just about concluded, as quickly as it has arrived and started. In only two weeks from now, the 2015 Roland Garros Grand Slam tournament will start, and 14 days later we will all move on to prepare for Wimbledon.
That’s tennis in 2015, folks; seldom is there ever any downtime. Andy Murray and Petra Kvitova won the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open titles for men and women just this previous week, and now we get to preview another joint ATP World Tour/WTA Tour venture.
Serena Williams has finally lost in 2015, but will this matter?
Probably not. Serena Williams has lost, but she remains by far the best player on the WTA Tour and, though she has been dealt a relatively tough draw in Italy, the smart bet is always on the American. Meeting her in the quarterfinals? Fellow American Sloane Stephens.
The second portion of the main draw belongs to Maria Sharapova, who played again this past week in Madrid after taking some time off/losing matches she shouldn’t have. The Russian will be looking to complete her preparation for the French Open and I believe she can equal in Rome the semifinal she reached in Madrid: making it to the final four would pit her up against Serena Williams and, well, Sharapova hasn’t beaten the Williams sister in more than a decade.
Somehow, some way, through the controversy, the new coach and the many, many losses (i.e. six matches in a row now) Eugenie Bouchard is still seeded at No. 6 for a WTA Premier event. If the Canadian doesn’t start winning soon, this is likely to change, as she’ll be hard pressed to equal her French Open semifinal of 2014.
Simona Halep also needs a good showing in Italy, as she’ll hope to use the event as a springboard for a repeat of her 2014 French Open final; she lost her very first match in Madrid, never a good omen. The Romanian has a tricky draw in Rome, with two players in Lucie Safarova and Svetlana Kuznetsova who made the quarterfinals in Madrid.
Quaterfinals: Serena Williams over Sloane Stephens; Maria Sharapova over Angelique Kerber; Petra Kvitova over Carla Suarez Navarro; Simona Halep over Ekaterina Makarova
Semifinals: Serena Williams over Maria Sharapova; Petra Kvitova over Simona Halep
Final: Petra Kvitova over Serena Williams
The Serb has played better than everyone in this 2015 season and the next big tournament he loses will be the first in about eight months. His draw is very manageable, but he was still dealt a difficult potential quarterfinal match against Kei Nishikori, a player who has the game to overtake him.
Andy Murray will arrive in Rome high on confidence; whether this is a result of him having won last week’s Mutua Madrid Open or the fact that he approves of Charlotte as the given name of the new Royal Princess, we may never know. Murray’s section of the main draw is littered with big names of players who haven’t played well recently and I wouldn’t be too concerned if I were the Brit. A place in the quarterfinals against David Ferrer should come rather easily for Murray.
We have come to this, yes: Rafael Nadal enters the last clay court tournament before the French Open as the …4th seed? Yep. The Spaniard has been better in recent weeks but in the same way that he can’t reliably count on his health, neither can the tennis world fully count on Nadal. What was once seemingly his given right, to win all clay court events in the world, is now more uncertain than ever. But why not one last vintage performance from Nadal this week?
The final section of the main draw will probably be the most contested of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Masters 1000, with plenty of star power, tricky veterans and players in form. But because the previous three quarterfinals have been fairly conservative, I’ll pick a surprise contestant in Kevin Anderson.
Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Kei Nishikori; Andy Murray over David Ferrer; Rafael Nadal over Stanislas Wawrinka; Tomas Berdych over Kevin Anderson
Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray; Rafael Nadal over Tomas Berdych
Final: Novak Djokovic over Rafael Nadal
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG