The jam-packed clay season in advance of Roland Garros is nearing its conclusion, but not without another crazy week just starting in Rome.
-A huge question mark until the last minute, Roger Federer did end up playing his opening match against future star Sascha Zverev, winning 6-3, 7-5. Though the scoreline looks clean, Federer says he’s still not right physically, conceding he won’t win the tournament and admits he’s not even sure he’ll play his Thursday match against Dominic Thiem. Every practice is touch and go, Federer says, adding that he wanted to try a match in Rome just to see how his body would respond ahead of the French Open.
-Even more concerning is Victoria Azarenka, who struggled in her first match, losing to Irina-Camelia Begu, 6-3, 6-2. Azarenka also abandoned Madrid due to a bad back, and looked more compromised than Federer. That she was worse after a week off is a red flag, which is a shame considering that she had only lost one match all year until Wednesday’s loss. Federer won’t win Roland Garros anyway, but another injury would rob Azarenka of a strong chance in Paris.
-As superstition goes, bad things come in threes, so keep an eye on Novak Djokovic. Making a quick turnaround from winning Madrid in the altitude, Djokovic appeared to be in back discomfort of his own and was a bit cranky in a closer-than-expected 7-5, 7-5, victory against 35 year old qualifier Stephane Robert. He plays Thomaz Bellucci on Thursday.
-Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray both won 6-3, 6-3, with Nadal looking particularly crisp against Philipp Kohlschreiber. Murray plays veteran Frenchman Jeremy Chardy next, while Nadal will face Nick Kyrgios in their first encounter since the Aussie’s win at Wimbledon 2014 that announced his arrival to the tennis world. Kyrgios booked a ticket to the third round by comfortably handling Milos Raonic for the third straight time.
-Keeping with their trend, the WTA seeds crashed out yet again. 11 of the 16 women’s seeds are already out, including Madrid champion Simona Halep. Three steps forward, one step back for her, but Paris will be the true indicator there. Angie Kerber’s up and down year continued, as her current rut left her vulnerable to Genie Bouchard. Kerber stormed back from 6-1, 3-0 down, but ultimately the Canadian found a way to get the big win, prevailing 6-1, 5-7, 7-5. Also out are Venus Williams, Roberta Vinci (in her final appearance at her home event), Lucie Safarova, Ana Ivanovic and Petra Kvitova, who will fall to 12th (at best) in Monday’s rankings.
-The final week before French Open seedings are finalized, each day could have ramifications. Raonic’s loss ensured he’ll be outside the top 8, making his path more difficult, while the top six women are all locked in unless Garbine Muguruza wins Rome.
-Thursday’s slate is predictably loaded, led by Nadal-Kyrgios, Federer-Thiem, Nishikori-Gasquet and Berdych-Goffin, plus Djokovic, Murray and Stan Wawrinka. On the women’s side, Serena Williams takes on fellow American Christina McHale after looking strong on Tuesday in her return from skipping Madrid.