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ATP Rome Draw Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem in the same quarter once again in the final big clay-court meet before Roland Garros

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 12 May 2018
  • ATP Internazionali BNL d'Italia is live from Rome from 13-20 May
  • Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem are in the same quarter
Dominic Thiem ended Rafael Nadal's 21-match winning streak on clay. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem are once again in the same quarter as the best players in the world converge in Rome for one last big meet before Roland Garros.

With the clay-court season seemingly turning into a procession for Nadal, who had swept through Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and had won 21 straight matches and 50 straight sets on the surface, Thiem pumped some life into the season with a powerful performance against the great Spaniard at the Madrid Open, knocking out the top seed to restore hope for the rest of tour.
Can Thiem back up that result with another strong showing in the Italian capital? Or can anyone else borrow from the Thiem manual and take down Nadal, who is again the defending champion in Rome? Or perhaps, the King of Clay will return with a vengeance and scythe through field at the Foro Italico?

We preview the Rome Masters draw.

Projected Quarter Final: Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem (Nadal leads 6-3 on head-to-head)
Seven-time champion, Rafael Nadal has got a bye into the second round, and could open against either Fernando Verdasco or Damir Dzumhur. Even at 34, Verdasco remains a dangerous floater on the tour, but he is 3-17 against Nadal, while the out-of-sorts Dzumhur, who beat Nadal via retirement in Miami in 2016, has won just one of his last eight matches. Nadal should be fine either way. 

If the Spaniard gets through that, the seedings suggest he should meet Tomas Berdych in the third round, but the big Czech is yet to win a match on clay this season, and crashes into Denis Shapovalov, a semi-finalist in Madrid as the time of writing, in the opening round. Now, backing up a result can be one of the most difficult things in this sport, especially for a youngster like Shapovalov. That will be the challenge before the Canadian teen in the coming week. Also, conditions in Rome aren’t as quick as they were in the altitude of Madrid, which could also be a factor in how the tournament pans out, relative to events in the Spanish capital. I’ll still back Shapovalov to move past Berdych, and past Robin Haase or Daniil Medvedev in the second round to set up a tasty third-round meeting with Nadal.

Thiem is on the other side of this quarter, and after a first round bye, he has got an awkward opener against Gael Monfils or Fabio Fognini, both very capable players on clay. Thiem has got to play well to get through that, and I think he will, he is 6-0 against both players combined, while Sam Querrey is the highest ranked player he can meet in the third round.

Predicted Quarter Final: Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem
Semi-Finalist: Rafael Nadal

Projected Quarter Final: Grigor Dimitrov vs John Isner (Isner leads 2-1 on head-to-head)
Lurking somewhere in this quarter in Novak Djokovic, whose mystifying struggles continued with a second-round loss to Kyle Edmund last week in Madrid. Since returning from a minor elbow operation at Indian Wells, Djokovic has won back-to-back matches just once- in Monte Carlo- and had suffered opening round defeats at Indian Wells, Miami and Barcelona, before his latest poor result in Madrid. There have been glimpses of a return to form, but every time he takes a step forward, like beating Kei Nishikori in the first round in Madrid, he takes a couple back, like crashing to Edmund in the second round. And if you are in such a funk, the last man you want to play is the funky Ukrainian, Alexandr Dolgopolov, which is exactly what Djokovic must contend with in Rome! Dolgopolov has had all sorts of injury problems all through his career, and he has played just the four tournaments this year, missing over two months between the Australian Open in January and Marrakech in April, but if he has been watching any tennis during his time off, he will know that he has got a shot of taking down Djokovic in Rome! He has certainly got the ability.

If Djokovic survives that, he’s got a qualifier in the second round, before running into last year’s semi-finalist, John Isner, who’s coming off a quarter final in Madrid, in the third round. I know I’m on shaky grounds here, but I will take a chance with four-time champion, Djokovic to come good, and make the quarters at least. He likes Rome; and has reached the final in each of the last four years!

Speaking of players in a funk, Grigor Dimitrov’s funky season continued in Madrid, where he fell to Milos Raonic in the opening round- the third time he had failed to cross the first hurdle of a tournament this season. The Bulgarian is at a healthy 16-9 for the year, and has made a final in Rotterdam, and semi-finals in Monte Carlo, and Brisbane, but the Nitto ATP Finals champion has not quite found his best form this season- certainly not consistently enough. He is in severe danger of another opening round exit in Rome. Semi-finalist in the Italian capital back in 2014, Dimitrov is on a three-match losing streak at the tournament following back-to-back opening round defeats, and with Kei Nishikori (or Feliciano Lopez) lined up as his second-round opponent (he’s got a first round bye), his Rome struggles could well continue this season. 

If he pulls through that, he is drawn to face Jack Sock in the third round, but Sock has been almost non-existent this season, providing an opportunity for his first-round opponent and new father, David Ferrer, who returns to the tour for the first time since Miami, to reach the second round. I think three-time Rome semi-finalist, Ferrer wins that one, moving on to play either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Karen Khachanov in the second round, before a potential third-round meeting with Dimitrov or Nishikori.

Predicted Quarter Final: Novak Djokovic vs Kei Nishikori
Semi-Finalist: Novak Djokovic

Projected Quarter Final: Marin Cilic vs Kevin Anderson (Cilic leads 6-1 on head-to-head)
Marin Cilic and Kevin Anderson headline an intriguing third quarter that also houses Stan Wawrinka, who makes his latest attempt at a comeback from knee surgery. Wawrinka has played just four tournaments this year; and has not been seen since February’s Open 13 in Marseille, where he retired against Ilya Ivashka in the opening round after his knee problems flared up again. Naturally, there is little to no expectations from Wawrinka in Rome, where he was a beaten finalist in 2007, with the priority being to get back to full fitness and start playing consistently once again. If he doesn’t make a late withdrawal from the tournament, he will start his campaign with a winnable match against American Steve Johnson, but I don’t see him getting past Pablo Carreno Busta in the second round, if the Spaniard takes out Jared Donaldson in his own opener. Whoever emerges from that section will likely take on Kevin Anderson in the third round. Anderson’s record in Rome is ordinary, but so was his record in Madrid before he made the semi-finals last week (as at the time of writing). The South African gets a bye into the second round, where he opens against Aljaz Bedene or Gilles Muller. I think the seedings will hold in this bracket, with Anderson moving on to face Carreno Busta in the third round.

The winner is seeded to face Marin Cilic in the quarter finals, but there’s some uncertainty around the Croatian, who pulled out of Madrid with a knee injury. I think a better bet for the quarter finals is the diminutive Argentine, Diego Schwartzman, who found some form in Madrid after a little patchy period. Schwartzman opens against a qualifier, and could play one of two capable but erratic Frenchmen, Benoit Paire or Richard Gasquet in the second round before that potential meeting with Cilic.

Predicted Quarter Final: Pablo Carreno Busta vs Diego Schwartzman
Semi-Finalist: Diego Schwartzman

Projected Quarter Final: Alexander Zverev vs Juan Martin del Potro (del Potro leads 2-0 on head-to-head)
Defending champion, Alexander Zverev has been in superb form over the last month, and he’s got a straightforward start to his title defence, which begins with a second-round meeting with either the unheralded Mateo Berrettini or a qualifier. Zverev should have no problems in moving on to the third round, where he is drawn to take on Lucas Pouille- a semi-finalist in the Italian capital two seasons ago.

However, Pouille has been all over the place for about two months now. He had a really good period in February when he won Montpellier and made finals in Marseille and Dubai, breaking into the top ten as a result, but he has not won a match on the ATP World Tour since then, making four successive opening round exits at Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Budapest and Madrid. If he breaks that losing streak and gets past Andreas Seppi in the opening round in Rome, he could run into Madrid quarter finalist, Kyle Edmund in the second round, and I’ll back the British number one, 8-4 on clay this season, to get that, and advance to a third-round meeting with Zverev.

On the other side of this quarter is Juan Martin del Potro who gets a first round bye, and potentially opens against in-form Borna Coric. I like Coric’s chances here- he has been really good this season; and should have taken down Thiem in Madrid last week. Whoever wins between Coric and del Potro will face David Goffin in the third round, according to the seedings, but the Belgian still has to get past Leonardo Mayer and possibly, Pablo Cuevas in the opening two rounds. 

Predicted Quarter Final: Alexander Zverev vs Borna Coric
Semi-Finalist: Alexander Zverev

Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic
Diego Schwartzman vs Alexander Zverev

Rafael Nadal vs Alexander Zverev

Rafael Nadal

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ATP Rome Draw Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem in the same quarter once again in the final big clay-court meet before Roland Garros

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem are in the same quarter once again as the best players in the world gather in Rome for one final big clay-court meet before Roland Garros

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