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 2021 Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Is it too early for fans of Stanislas Wawrinka to start rejoicing ahead of this year’s Roland-Garros?
Okay, let’s back up here a bit.
You might have noticed that this 2021 clay court season has been oddly and uniquely challenging for Rafael Nadal, the man who’s never seen a clay court he couldn’t rule like his fiefdom…that is, until this year?
We’re at the final major stage of this mini run before the French Open for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Open in Rome, and Rafael Nadal finds himself in the odd position of still looking for his first real breakthrough. So far in 2021, he’s failed to win the title in Monte-Carlo and Madrid, losing in the quarterfinals both times. Should he fail to capture the title this coming week in Italy, it would be only the second time the Spaniard doesn’t win any of the major three events leading up to the French Open.
But wait, how is this relevant?
Why is this notable and what’s even the point of bringing up Wawrinka at the opening of this column? Well, the only other time that Nadal failed to win one of the big prizes of the clay court season was in 2015. That’s one of the few years that he failed to win it all in Paris and the one year that Wawrinka got his Roland-Garros title.
Since 2005 (discounting 2020), there has been only one season during which Nadal has not won one of Monte Carlo, Madrid or Rome:
Ended up losing in the quarterfinals of the French Open to Djokovic.
— The Big 3 (@Big3Tennis) May 8, 2021
If you’re currently competing on the ATP World Tour and you’re looking for a silver lining at Roland-Garros, this is as good as it gets. Then again, Nadal could very well go on to win both titles in Rome and Paris and render this entire column moot but we’re going with what we’ve got.
That all said, let’s look at the upcoming event in Rome and give our predictions for how both draws might unfold. Remember not to bet the house on these picks; we’re typically not very good.
Let’s shock the world? I guess that’s what we’re going for here with our predictions. If youngster Iga Swiatek, who’s been rather quiet recently, hopes to defend her Roland-Garros title, she would do good to start winning right here in Italy.
Overall, the women’s draw is overall really, truly loaded even after Canadian Bianca Andreescu announced on Sunday that she was withdrawing from the event. And if we happen to be right for the quarterfinals and onward, this event will have turned out quite alright.
Quarterfinals: Ashleigh Barty over Aryna Sabalenka; Iga Swiatek over Garbine Muguruza; Simona Halep over Petra Kvitova; Naomi Osaka over Serena Williams
Semifinals: Iga Swiatek over Ashleigh Barty; Naomi Osaka over Simona Halep
Final: Iga Swiatek over Naomi Osaka
Sure, we’re willing to entertain the idea of a few other players and their chances at winning everything here in Italy. Given the way he’s been playing on the surface, Novak Djokovic should have his hands full this coming week. In the second section, a potential quarterfinal between Andrey Rublev and Dominic Thiem is on paper as good as things can get, but we don’t think we’ll get there.
This is in theory a fairly good and balanced draw, but in theory a single man isn’t supposed to win 92 per cent of his matches on clay like Nadal has throughout his career. And despite what we wrote at the top of this column, we’re not sure we’re ready to go against the Spaniard once again.
Quarterfinals: Stefanos Tsitsipas over Novak Djokovic; Andrey Rublev over Alex De Minaur; Diego Schwartzman over Hubert Hurkacz; Rafael Nadal over Fabio Fognini
Semifinals: Stefanos Tsitsipas over Andrey Rublev; Rafael Nadal over Diego Schwartzman
Final: Rafael Nadal over Stefanos Tsitsipas
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG