The Masters 1000 series rolls into Rome this week, with Rafael Nadal hoping a first Italian Open triumph since 2013 can help him reclaim the world No 1 ranking.
Nadal gifted the crown back to Roger Federer – who has skipped the clay-court season – after losing to Dominic Thiem in Madrid.
However, the Spaniard knows an eighth title in the Italian capital will help him wrestle back the No 1 status, and the 31-year-old will face either Fernando Verdasco or Damir Dzumhur in the second round, with talented teenager Denis Shapovalov looming as a potential third-round opponent.
Meanwhile, Thiem finds himself in the same quarter as Nadal for the second tournament in the row. Having ended the Spaniard’s 21-match run on clay on Friday, the pair could well face one another in the quarters again on Friday.
Elsewhere, reigning champion Alexander Zverev will be hoping for further success in Italy, and a favourable draw could well see the German feature in the final once again.
Novak Djokovic has reached eight of the last 10 finals in Rome, and he will be hoping to regain some form ahead of the French Open, though a tricky first-round tie against Alexandr Dolgopolov awaits the Serb, who turns 31 next Tuesday.
“Novak loves Rome,” said Sky Sports’ tennis analyst Annabel Croft. “He speaks Italian and feels closely aligned with the country.
“It’s hard to know where he’s at emotionally, but there were glimpses in Madrid. He’s back with (coach) Marian Vajda, who is like a second dad to him. He experimented but now he feels like he’s back to basics.”
Former British No 1 Greg Rusedski added: “He’s starting to get his tennis together. Is his confidence there? No, not yet. Is he sometimes indecisive? Yes. But is he fighting more each point? A lot more than I’ve seen in a long while.
“If he keeps on that matter, Rome could be a pivotal week just before the French Open, because he’s not that far away – it’s just when those little moments creep in. It just takes one or two matches and he is closer than we all think.”
Kyle Edmund will look to build on impressive victories in Madrid as he continues his preparations for Roland Garros.
The British No 1 exited the Madrid Open at the quarter-final stage after losing to 19-year-old Shapovalov, but beat Djokovic and David Goffin on his way to the last eight.
Edmund faces a potential third-round meeting with Zverev, though he could have a stern test in the second round in the shape of Lucas Pouille or Andreas Seppi.
Surprise in store
Fourth seed Marin Cilic may get a bye into the second round, but he would do well to progress to the quarter-finals with Diego Schwartzman a potential last-16 opponent.
Meanwhile, Borna Coric will fancy his chances of upsetting Juan Martin del Potro should he reach the second round, having recorded solid wins over Pablo Carreno Busta and Jan-Lennard Struff in Madrid before losing in three sets to Thiem.
One to watch
With the top eight seeds getting a bye, the pick of the first-round matches sees the promising Shapovalov take on now veteran-of-the-game, Tomas Berdych.
Shapovalov, the youngest player in the top 100, was the conqueror of Kyle Edmund in Madrid, where he also beat fellow Canadian Milos Raonic.
Should the Canadian navigate his way to the third round, then 16-time Grand Slam champion Nadal could await – a match-up not to be missed should it come to fruition.
Elsewhere, an enticing encounter between Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini will see the victor take on Thiem in the second round.
The Masters 1000 Series continues with our coverage of the ATP Italian Open on Sky Sports Arena starting from 10am on Monday.
Live ATP Tennis
May 14, 2018, 10:00am
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