Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2019 Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Once again, all is well in Novak-land?
After a funky few months where the best men’s player in the world didn’t really play up to the standards of the latter half of last season, all eyes had been on Novak Djokovic to see if and when he would stop fine-tuning and actually go for it on clay in the lead-up to Roland-Garros. After coming up empty without really trying much in Monte-Carlo, would it be in Madrid or only the following week in Rome? Could he even still go further or was the funk the symptom of something else?
Yeah, no. In Madrid, the Serb got dealt a fairly easy draw and took full advantage, never dropping a set on his way to the title. It was as expedite as Masters 1000s wins come, not to mention that finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, whom Djokovic beat 6-3 and 6-4 in the final, had done the heavy lifting in overcoming Rafael Nadal in the semifinal. Surely, the Serb never asked for such leniency from his opponent, but who is he to say no to such a nice gift??
All that said, here we are in Rome this week for the final “kind of a big deal” event of the clay court season before the big prize at the end of the big clay rainbow in the form of Roland-Garros.
We were oddly fairly good with our predictions last week for Madrid, how will we fare this time for Rome? Let’s see.
On the women’s side, the race for world No. 1 rages on for at least another week as both Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova reached the final eight in Madrid and neither of them with any points to defend essentially.
Osaka, for her part, will have to earn and fight for everything she gains this week, with likely Madrid-finalist Kiki Bertens awaiting her in the quarterfinals. In the second section of the main draw, we are eager to see how Serena Williams performs: she likely won’t push too hard since Rome isn’t Paris, but her «not too hard» still is fairly overwhelming.
Down in the lower half of the draw, we want to see if Elina Svitolina can make it to three straight Rome titles. You want to say that the Ukrainian player has had a ho-hum start to her 2019 season, but then you look up and see that she’s won 13 of her 19 matches and already has almost $1 million in prize money. She’s fine and great, and she shouldn’t be counted out this week—especially not as the two-time defending champion. Meanwhile, we’re thrilled to see wild-card Sara Errani in the main draw; she’s far from where she was when she reached the 2012 French Open final, but there’s more to tennis than that. Or at least: there ought to be.
Quarterfinals: Kiki Bertens over Naomi Osaka; Simona Halep over Serena Williams; Elina Svitolina over Karolina Pliskova; Ashleigh Barty over Anett Kontaveit
Semifinals: Simona Halep over Kiki Bertens; Elina Svitolina over Ashleigh Barty
Final: Elina Svitolina over Simona Halep
Do you hear this noise? Everyone’s favourite player, to much great fanfare, announced over the weekend that he would be competing in Rome for some reason. Maybe it’s because he understands there’s no point in preserving his energy for a Roland-Garros title that’s unlikely to come? Okay, I’ll stop.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) May 11, 2019
Over in the top section, all eyes will be on Juan Martin del Potro and, if he happens to be fully healthy—which we absolutely hope for—on Juan Martin del Potro’s forehand. After Madrid last weekend, Novak Djokovic should be fine for Paris regardless of what happens in Italy. Meanwhile, Marin Cilic has pretty much replaced Tomas Berdych as the reliable, week-in and week-out quarterfinalist. Good for him, may we be kinder to him for displaying such consistency than we were for Berdych.
In the lower half of the main draw, there is Roger Federer, for reasons purely sentimental, and there is Rafael Nadal, for reasons purely sentimental and objective. Then there is also theoretically Dominic Thiem, but he’ll be slain as early as the quarterfinals here due to how the draw was set up. These are the breaks.
Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Juan Martin del Potro; Gael Monfils over Marin Cilic; Roger Federer over Fabio Fognini; Rafael Nadal over Dominic Thiem
Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Gael Monfils; Rafael Nadal over Roger Federer
Final: Rafael Nadal over Novak Djokovic
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG