(1)Novak Djokovic d. (4)Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-0, 7-6(5)
1, 2, 4, 5
SEEDS: ONE & DONE (1st Match Loss)
2 out of 16
ROME NEWS & NOTES
*Novak Djokovic seeks to become a repeat champion in Rome for the second time in his career as he arrives this week. The Serb won his 6th career title at this Masters 1000 in 2022. Rome has been dominated by Djokovic and Rafael Nadal since 2005 with the pair accounting for all the title wins except for for two when Andy Murray won in 2016 and Alexander Zverev followed suit in 2017. Nadal has won the title here ten times. Djokovic’s 2022 win came at 1.46 (-217) over Tsitsipas. With Nadal and Djokovic’s domination, the number of underdog winners in the championship match have been less of late for sure. The last two came in those years when Murray and Zverev upset Djokovic for the titles with the Brit at 2.81 (+181) and Zverev at a whopping 4.77 (+377). Djokovic did score title wins as a dog in both 2010 and 2014 over Nadal at 2.69 (+169) and 2.12 (+112).
*There were ZERO underdog hits in the business end at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia last year. The quarterfinals, semis and final all went to to the favorites with only one of those last seven matches requiring three sets to finish. There were plenty of dog hits however in rounds one through three with 16 dog bites, including the largest at 6.09 (+509) when Marcos Giron took down (12)Diego Schwartzman in round two. Seven of those 16 hits came in round two with four hitting at over 3.0 (+200), including a pair at 5.0 (+400) or better. Seven of the other dog scores came in round one. There were only eight combined dog wins in rounds one and two in 2021 by comparison. While seeds were safer last year, most runs in Rome the four years prior to 2022 have seen a minimum of four seeds going one and done.
*Last year, Cristian Garin was the only unseeded player to make the last eight. That was a change from recent runs where at least two players in the quarterfinals had been unseeded each year from 2016-2021. Those years also yielded a run of unseeded semifinalists with six of the 24 slots in that stretch going to an unseeded player. Despite an increase in unseeded players in the semis, none made it to the final. The last unseeded finalist in Rome came in 2008 when Stan Wawrinka fell to Novak Djokovic in three sets. With Nadal and Djokovic’s dominance here, there have only been a handful of finalists that were not TOP FOUR seeds, and one of those was Nadal as a #5 in 2013.
*Nineteen of the 55 matches in Rome last year went three sets. Only four of those matches came from the round of 16 through the final. The majority came in rounds one and two with eight in the first and seven in the second. In 2021, there were seven three set matches in the round of 16, quarters, semis and the final combined. The first round in 2021 was again home to a lot of the three set matches with seven of the 16 three setters that year coming in the opening round. It’s obviously not surprising to see more in round one with 24 matches in that round with 2019 being a high water mark with 14 three set matches in round one. There’s no tried and true formula, but I’d look to round one to take more shots at those sort of things.
*The court speed in Rome is rated slow as you’ll see with most clay court tournaments. It’s just a tick above Monte-Carlo for court speed with that Masters stop being slower due to the cooler weather that usually is still in place at that time on the calendar. You won’t see any added “bite” from the altitude like you see in Madrid, so these are some very true clay court conditions for the most part. Some have said that Rome is about the closest you can get to what players are going to see in a few weeks at Roland Garros.
*The focus in Rome will inevitably fall onto the shoulders of Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic with this being the final tuneup for both before the French Open. Alcaraz has been a dominant force albeit without seeing Djokovic in a tournament during this clay court swing. The Spanish phenom has won titles in Barcelona and Madrid, and stands at 29-2 in 2023. There is little doubt about his form heading in, something that Djokovic cannot echo. The Serb has been playing with a sleeve on his right elbow and has gone just 2-2 in the two tournaments played in Monte-Carlo and Banja Luka. Clearly the injury had hampered his play both weeks, but Djokovic has reportedly been practicing without the sleeve ahead of Rome and according to reports has been striking the ball much better. Expect all eyes to be on these two with the hope of seeing the two square off for the first time since Alcaraz beat Djokovic last year in Madrid. Djokovic has the experience, while Alcaraz makes his debut at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in 2023.
*Djokovic and Alcaraz will be placed one and two in the seeding to be followed by Daniil Medvedev and Casper Ruud to round out the top four. Medvedev has had a decent showing on clay in two tournaments with a 4-2 mark, but Rome has not been kind to the Russian. He’s 0-3 in his career in three trips. Ruud has made the semifinals here twice in 2020 and 2022, but is far from that form with a 2-3 mark on clay after his Estoril title run. That includes an opening loss to Italian qualifier Matteo Arnaldi in Madrid last time out. Ruud is just 11-9 this year with Estoril still being the only tournament where he’s won back-to-back matches. That’s one out of nine played.
*Rounding out the top eight are Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Holger Rune and Jannik Sinner. Tsitsipas had his best run in Rome last year with the trip to the final. In all, he’s made the quarters, semis and the final within the last four runs at this stop. He comes in with good form having made at least the quarters in all three clay court tournaments this swing with the high point being his loss in the Barcelona final. Rublev was stopped short of a third straight clay final by his doubles partner Karen Khachanov in Madrid last week in the round of 16. Rome hasn’t been great to him with a pair of second round exits in the last three runs. He did make the quarters in 2021. Rune makes his main draw debut in Rome. The Dane has been great on clay at 8-2 this year despite the early exit to Davidovich Fokina last week in round two. Sinner will play for the first time in several weeks after missing out since his Barcelona withdrawal due to an illness. His best run in Rome came in 2022 with a quarterfinal loss against Tsitsipas.
*Amongst the remaining seeds in the top half, it’s a struggle to find good form coming to this final clay Masters event of 2023. (9)Taylor Fritz would be the one to highlight. He finished with semifinal runs in both Monte-Carlo and Munich before a tight round of 16 upset loss to Zhang Zhizen in Madrid. Rome has been a tough go for him though with a 2-3 record in three trips. The American certainly has shown more on clay this year than in prior seasons, so there is reason to believe he could show better this time around. Felix Auger-Aliassime is at the #10 spot and made the quarterfinals last year, but the Canadian has just one match in the last few months. It was a tough draw last time in Madrid against a red hot Dusan Lajovic, so perhaps Felix might be in for a better time this tournament. The one name that does stick out after Madrid is Borna Coric who busted out of a losing skid with an unexpected semifinal run. Is that a one off or has the Croat rediscovered some form? His track record in Rome isn’t great with three first round exits in five trips and the conditions are obviously much different from Madrid to Rome. I’ll wait to see Coric prove it two tournaments in a row after having lost his opener in four tournaments coming into the Madrid Open.
*Keep an eye on Italians in the draw. Four of the last five runs in Rome have seen an Italian make the quarterfinals and a surprising Lorenzo Sonego made the semifinals here in 2021. While some of the other names are not surprising like Sinner in 2022 or Matteo Berrettini in 2020, Sonego and Fabio Fognini back in 2018 were both unseeded when they made that trip to the final eight.
*Qualifiers also should be monitored closely. Two of the last three runs at the Rome Masters have seen a qualifier make the final eight. In 2021 it was Federico Delbonis and in 2020, Dominik Koepfer was a shock quarterfinalist. One name sticking out is Yannick Hanfmann who could get a shot at Taylor Fritz in round two. Hanfmann had a nice run out of qualifying in Madrid last week where he beat Musetti. Roman Safiullin also is an intriguing one as his play has gone up the last few weeks. He’s in the section with Korda where an upset might be possible. An Italian to keep an eye on is Flavio Cobolli who made the quarters out of qualifying in Munich a few weeks back. A win in round one could net him a shot at Casper Ruud. And even though clay isn’t Thanasi Kokkinakis’ best surface, it would be a matchup to monitor in round two if he advances to get another crack at Sinner. He’s beaten Sinner once and lost a tight one in their last meeting in Adelaide earlier this year. Both of those however were on hard courts where Kokkinakis has the best chance for those kind of results.
Djokovic has been afforded a nice early draw in this quarter, but things could heat up if the seeding holds. In his half, the seeds don’t seem particularly threatening with Norrie, de Minaur and Dimitrov. Norrie at one point maybe would have had form on his side, but the Brit has slipped a lot in the last six weeks with only a 2-4 record in his last four tournaments. He’s also never been past round two in Rome. Keep an eye on his first opponent. Edmund wouldn’t test him much, but qualifier Alexandre Muller might test him a bit more. Alex de Minaur made the round of 16 a year ago in Rome to break a three year skid in which he lost his opener each time. He’s mediocre on clay however with a win and loss in each of the three tournaments this swing. Fucsovics would be a tough opener for him I think more so than Krajinovic, so ADM would be on upset alert for me if Fucsovics is his opponent in round two.
As for Dimitrov, he’s had a couple outliers to the pestilence that has awaited him traditionally in Rome. The Bulgarian made the quarters in 2020 and the semis way back in 2014, but has failed to advance past round two each of the other eight trips. Either Ivashka (2-1 v Dimitrov) or Wawrinka (7-5) would pose a sizeable risk for the 26th seed’s starter in round two. One thing I would almost guarantee in this section is that if Djokovic gets another shot at Van Assche who took a set off him in Banja Luka, that the GOAT Syndrome will be at play – rarely have the Big Three not atoned for a closer than expected result against a younger player the second time they meet. If Djokovic is fit, I would expect him to want to make an example out of the young Italian in his opener. I don’t see Van Assche or Etecheverry as a big threat for the top seeded Serb to start. And if healthy, this draw certainly lends to a quarterfinal push for the defending champ.
The bottom half may or may not have more intrigue to it with Rune as the lead seed. Auger-Aliassime, Korda and Kecmanovic are the other seeds in this half of the quarter. Kecmanovic has the better form of the three with more matches on the surface, but he’s fared better in the smaller draws like Estoril where he made the final and Banja Luka where he scooted into the semifinals. His opener is atrocious with an in-form Andy Murray or Fabio Fognini waiting. Murray has to be favored after winning the Aix en Provence Challenger on clay last week. Fognini does own wins in two of the three clay court meetings with Murray, but those were all ages ago and the Italian is a woeful 2-8 to this point in 2023. I will note those two wins on clay did come in Italy in a Davis Cup tie and here in Rome back in 2017. Fognini also won the most recent battle in Shanghai in 2019. Either way, I give the survivor of that round one clash an excellent chance to take out Kecmanovic. Korda fought well in Madrid in his first match since late January, but suffered a loss to qualifier Hugo Grenier. I think it will be tough for him again off a bye to take on either Giron or Roman Safiullin who has looked good in qualifying and comes off a nice third round finish in Madrid.
I don’t have Felix on my one and done list, but he should be very careful in his opener. O’Connell has surprisingly surged on clay recently with some inspired play. The Aussie is 9-4 across all levels on clay in 2023, but generally has not been able to take out higher ranked players with losses to Rune and Fritz in that mix. The plus he’d have is that Felix could still be rusty, but it’s one the Canadian really should figure out and win in the end. I give Felix the edge for taking one of the “Sweet 16” spots in this part of the draw with Rune seeming very likely to be the other. Rune will be in the villain role as he’s not become accustomed to but this draw looks very workable for him. I would be very interested to see Murray continue his solid play from the Challenger last week and get a crack at Rune. I think that’s the potential highlight attraction of his section if it happens. In spite of Andy’s nice recent play, I don’t think he matches up that well with Rune’s ability to basically do everything he does just a little bit better. The one plus might be Rune’s inexperience in Rome with this being his first main draw participation.
So is there much in the way or Djokovic against Rune in the quarterfinals? Auger-Aliassime would seem to be the best shot to break up that party, but hasn’t secured any sort of big wins in 2023. That might make it a bit out there to think it comes this tournament. I’m hard pressed to see anyone else in this quarter that gives me the energy to think they could take out Djokovic or Rune ahead of the quarters. The bigger thing perhaps would be Djokovic’s fitness, but he’s reportedly without the protective sleeve on his elbow and in better condition by all accounts. A Djokovic-Rune clash would be must see after Rune’s upset win in Paris last Fall. Djokovic would obviously be keen to send out as many messages this week as possible that he’s in good condition and form heading towards the French Open. Beating Rune would be a big first step with bigger fish to fry in the following rounds depending on how it all works out.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Fucsovics over (17)de Minaur
Giron/Safiullin over (22)Korda
Ivashka/Wawrinka over (26)Dimitrov
Murray/Fognini over (30)Kecmanovic
I won’t say that event organizers let Sinner hand pick this draw, but he couldn’t do a better job than they did. The main threat for the lead seed in this quarter would have to be Khachanov who is also in his half of the quarter. Those two have battled three times, all on hard courts, with Sinner prevailing in two of three. All three matches went the distance. Clay and Rome should give Sinner more advantages, but Khachanov certainly would still be a tough out for the 8th seed. I won’t bother putting Ruud into the conversation because quite frankly the 4th seed hasn’t played anywhere close to a level that would indicate he’d be around in the quarters to face Sinner without A LOT OF HELP. More on Ruud in a minute. Sticking with Sinner’s half, he may not face a seed before the round of 16. Griekspoor may meet Baez in his opener, a repeat of last year’s opening round that saw the Argentine prevail in three. Griekspoor is just 1-4 on clay in 2023 and withdrew in the middle of his opener in Madrid. The other part of this section may well fall to seed versus seed with Khachanov and Francisco Cerundolo looking strong favorites to advance. Khachanov is 2-0 against Cerundolo, but those were on hard courts. I’m not sure clay evens the score that much with Cerundolo still struggling for consistent wins in Europe. For me, a Sinner-Khachanov clash looks fairly probable in this set up.
The other half of this quarter looks completely up for grabs. Ruud is the lead as the fourth seed, but he just has not produced in 2023 at 11-9 overall. Rome has been good to him though with two straight semifinal runs in 2020 and 2022. I can even make a case that his draw looks nice even for a struggling player like the Norwegian. The other seed in his half of this quarter is Shelton who already lost to Ruud on clay in Barcelona and is a mediocre 2-4 at the ATP level on clay this year. He did make the semis at the Cagliari Challenger last week. Shelton may well get another crack at Ruud as he will get Bublik or Pedro Martinez to start, both winnable matchups albeit ones that won’t be easy. Remember the note earlier about Ruud’s inability to win consecutive matches at tournaments – so does that mean Shelton gets the upset here?
The other half of this section looks primed for upsets with Tommy Paul and Botic van de Zandschulp as the seeds. Paul found some form at the Challenger level last week, but hasn’t won a clay court match in an ATP main draw since Rome last year. That’s five straight losses. Both Garin and Cachin would be very tough to get for your opener on clay. BVDZ did have the nice run to the title in Munich where he had the epic choke against Rune. Predictably he was a bit flat in losing his next match, an opener in Madrid against Karatsev. He has struggled to do more on clay at bigger tournaments, but has a reasonable set up although I think Djere is a potential rough second round foe. If van de Zandschulp avoids that upset, he might be a bit of a dark horse in this section. The Dutchman has been tough on Ruud even if Ruud owns the last two wins against him on clay, including Monte-Carlo this year.
It’s not a given that Sinner is one of the quarterfinal runners in this spot, but I do think he’s the one most will expect. The other QF spot could go several different ways. You can argue for Ruud, but it’s real easy to argue against him. I’d go for a longer shot like van de Zandschulp or perhaps the survivor of that Cachin-Garin clash in round one. Garin seems more likely to me. The Chilean was a quarterfinalist in Rome last year and has been consistent of late with quartefinals in Houston and Munich along with a round of 16 finish in Madrid. I think any way you shake it, the safe pick is Sinner while the more aggressive might think about taking a shocker like Khachanov or a real long shot like Garin to join the unseeded semifinal Masters club.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Cachin/Garin over (16)Paul
Goffin over (19)Zverev
Djere over (23)van de Zandschulp
Baez over (29)Griekspoor
There are a lot of seeds in this quarter with questionable form on clay and historically in Rome. Medvedev is one of those despite his lofty seeding here as he’s still never won a match in Rome. He’ll likely be rooting for Ruusuvuori in round one against Humbert since he’s 0-2 against the Frenchman. Ruusuvuori surprisingly (I think) is 2-0 against Humbert with both wins on clay. The Fin has improved on clay, so perhaps even he has a shot against the Russian if he advances. Humbert does come in hot off the Challenger title in Calgiari, but he’s only won three main draw matches at the ATP level on clay since the start of 2021. Meddy did beat Ruusuvuori in their only previous clash, but that was indoors on a hard surface in Astana. Clay could actually give the Fin a boost at this point, so I think Medvedev may struggle against either guy. Zapata Miralles might be the guy to watch in this section with the now seeded Spaniard racking up a 13-7 mark on clay in 2023. He should have a favorable opener and and might be the most comfortable of any of the players in this section on clay at this point.
Opposite of this quadrant, could this be the tournament where Zverev finds himself in position for a deep run? He seemed ready with the close loss in Monte-Carlo to Medvedev, but then lost to O’Connell in Munich and was absolutely obliterated by Alcaraz in the round of 16 in Madrid. The German did make the semis a year ago in Rome and the quarters two years ago. The guy he may may want to avoid in spite of all his ups and mostly downs is Goffin. Goffin has beaten him two straight and nothing seems straight forward for Zverev again. The plus for Zverev is he has beaten Hurkacz two out of two meetings, so even if that clash did happen in the 3rd round – it should be a decent one for him. Hurkacz could do well enough just to avoid an early exit with five of his last six matches requiring three sets. The Pole is 3-3 in clay in those matches and I do think Halys could push him in his opener if the Frenchman gets by Wolf in round one. So there is a lane for Zverev to make a run and oddly enough this could fall to a Medvedev-Zverev meeting again in the round of 16. That both seems really unlikely and yet perhaps likely with this particular draw that affords both a chance to win when maybe you don’t think they will.
In the other half, most eyes will be on Rublev who has been very consistent with a 10-2 record on clay. Rome has been more down than up for him so far, but this draw isn’t too shabby. A potential battle against Davidovich Fokina in round three is the first thing I set my eyes to in this part of the field. ADF has a winnable opener waiting with Pella or Cressy. He has been very tough on Rublev in two career losses with the last coming in a three set thriller in Dubai this year; 1-6, 7-6, 7-6. I would expect the Spaniard to have a shot with these conditions in Rome. Opposite of this, it’s hard to pick against a Fritz versus Bautista Agut third rounder. A month or so back, I would have given Jarry a shot against Fritz with his big serve, but the Chilean has struggled to replicate the success on dirt he found in South America in making the Rio semifinals and winning in Santiago. Qualifier Yannick Hanfmann might be the tougher out now and he’s shown some decent results in Houston and Madrid during his clay court season.
RBA is just 3-4 on clay, but his losses have been mostly competitive. Cecchinato at one time might have been a bigger threat for the Spaniard in round two, but the Italian has struggled for consistency even on his favorite surface. He should get past McDonald who does not have good results on clay, but RBA probably survives round two. RBA is 5-2 against Fritz, but most of those wins came before the American’s elevated play the last two seasons. Fritz proved that in their last meeting in 2022 when he overcame RBA in five sets in Australia to break a three match losing skid against him. Given the trajectory of their seasons, Fritz is a firm favorite in that one to me, but I do expect a competitive one if it happens and RBA certainly knows how to play Fritz. Do we get Rublev and Fritz again for a quarterfinal berth? Rublev won the last time they met in Monte-Carlo in three to break Fritz’s three match win streak over him.
I have to go against Medvedev with his hatred of the slow stuff and that first match for him likely being more difficult than most. I feel like the third round in this quarter is going to be fun with plenty of twists and turns. My eyes are focused on the Spaniards – Bautista Agut, Davidovich Fokina and Zapata Miralles as outliers to watch.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Ruusuvuori/Humbert over (3)Medvedev
Halys over (14)Hurkacz
There is a lot of excitement right away for people who see Alcaraz and Tsitsipas in the same quarter. That’s a tougher potential draw for Alcaraz than he’s had in any tournament. Will that meeting happen? Musetti COULD be one to watch in front of the home crowd, but he also has some early trouble in his way perhaps in fellow Italian Arnaldi and Tiafoe has always been a tough matchup regardless of surface. Tiafoe himself needs to be mindful out of the gate as I think he’s never won here and will have to deal with a player who has already won. Big Foe has always been competitive against Tsitsipas as well, but I think clay might be the surface where the Greek has a larger advantage. Tsitsipas might not have the easiest opener if Lajovic tops Borges with the Serb continuing his good form in Madrid last week. I do think the Greek will survive, but I won’t be surprised if it’s very tough. I’d give Musetti the better shot for being the trouble maker in this half if there is one. Keep an eye on the two Italian wild cards, Arnaldi and Zeppieri, I believe one of them could well spring a seeded upset. Arnaldi has been playing very well of late.
In the other half with Alcaraz, there doesn’t look like much that’s going to get in the way of the second seed’s pursuit of a deep run. Maybe Lehecka presents an interesting test in round three, but there isn’t much in his recent form that suggests he’ll stop the Spanish phenom. Coric is the highest seeded player in this half and we just saw how that turned out in Madrid in conditions that might have given the Croat a better chance. Coric looks to be the favorite to be opposite of Alcaraz in the round of 16 with a decent draw. The question will be if Madrid was an anomaly or if Coric has found his form again. The survivor of the Carballes Baena-Dellien opener could be an interesting floater in this section. Both are very capable on clay and should be able to push for the upset of Evans in round two and maybe even more against Coric most likely in the next round. Regardless, there is no reason to believe that Alcaraz will have too much trouble in getting to the quarters in this section.
So what if we do get Alcaraz-Tsitsipas Volume 5? Alcaraz has come through all four with wins with a 6-3, 6-4 victory in the Barcelona title match the most recent result. Tsitsipas had taken sets from the Spaniard in two of their first three meetings, so there was reason to believe he could push for a win. I guess the plus if you’re looking for someone to stop Alcaraz short of advancing is that this is in Rome where Alcaraz’s support won’t be quite as rabid as it is in Spain. The kid is still popular though, we know this, but it won’t be a majority like in Barcelona. Does that make any difference? It seems doubtful, but perhaps it’s closer this time around in a more neutral setting.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Zeppieri/Altmaier over (12)Tiafoe
Arnaldi over (18)Musetti
Carballes Baena/Dellien over (20)Evans
Sonego over (25)Nishioka
My strategy of not taking the heavier favorites of course has not paid off with Alcaraz taking several tournaments on clay as an even odds or slightly worse favorite in the outright markets. This tournament presents a bit different feel for that with Djokovic back. Alcaraz’s odds on the outright market are slightly better than even at 2.40 (+140) and Djokovic comes in second at around 4.00 (+300). That seems perfectly reasonable given Djokovic’s previous elbow issue and a potential meeting with Rune in the quarters. The top five choices this week all seem about right to me. Sinner gets the third place nod since he avoids Djokovic longer than Rune and Rune is a step ahead of Tsitsipas in the market since he’s got the win against Djokovic last year that was so impressive in Paris.
So is it a simple choice to take both Alcaraz and Djokovic if you’re investing in more than one player? I think Alcaraz is a better choice due to the Djokovic elbow and the draw itself. Djokovic could face both Rune and Sinner just to get to the final. Both have shown the ability to stick with the Serb, so it’s certainly not a given for him to get through. Alcaraz has a much better half even with the potential Tsitsipas clash in the quarters. I don’t think Djokovic is a dumb idea at all because he certainly is going to be motivated and if healthy, has the capability of course to run the table. So it’s about risk management to me – do you trust Djokovic’s health or not? If you don’t, both Rune and Sinner give you a bigger price as a nice compliment to taking Alcaraz in the other half. I’d probably rather have Sinner and play Rune straight up against Djokovic if the draw falls that way, but can’t fault anyone for taking a shot if you don’t trust Djokovic.
Rome has been one of the stops on tour that hasn’t sprung too many surprises from a finals perspective over the years. The top seed has claimed a spot in the final here every year since 2018. And the one or two has been involved in the final each year since 2011 with plenty of one versus two championship matches in that mix. If we get that again this year, no one will complain as most have been waiting to see a healthy Alcaraz versus Djokovic battle again after last year’s win for Alcaraz 6-7, 7-5, 7-6 in Madrid. In some markets, you may be able to find a prop where you can take either Alcaraz or Djokovic to win at a slightly elevated price – that may be my final choice depending on the price when I see that posted. I will update if needed, but otherwise feel fine taking both at the odds below.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Alacaraz 2.40 (+140)
Djokovic 4.00 (+300)