Another year, another Nadal victory at RG

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Once again, Rafa Nadal wins Roland Garros. He has now won 11 titles in Paris, and over the past 15 days, he was so clean, hitting deep and true. No one can touch him.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, tried as hard as he could, but there was no answer. Sure, during the moments, he looked sharp, going for the shots, hitting backhand to backhand, and when he had a small opportunity, he would go for it.

But did Thiem managed to find the lines and hope that Nadal wouldn’t catch him? Here and there, but it didn’t work. Because Nadal is so fast, so patient, and he knows where the ball is coming from. The Spaniard’s forehand is massive, his serve is big, and at the net, today, he was almost perfect. His backhand has improved a lot over the last few years. Before, his backhand could be a little bit soft, or not deeper enough, but now, he is just fine hitting rallies, especially cracking down the line and putting it away.
Nadal is just better on the clay courts, having 57 titles. That is more than extraordinary. Next year, assuming he is healthy, Nadal will be the favorite once again. How does anyone can really attack him at Roland Garros? On occasion, someone might win a set, but to win it three out of five sets? Right now, that is impossible.    

Thiem had a fine two weeks. He pushed himself, and he likes to add something new. However, he does have to learn even more. He can be erratic against the big boys. So, if he wants to win a major, he has to find the right strategy. If he does, sometime of the future, the 24-year-old will reach the final at 2019 RG. The No. 7 may not be able to upset Nadal, but on clay, Thiem could win the title against anyone else.  He is that good.  

Rankings the top players …

The Men
Nadal, A+: He only lost one set over seven matches, against Diego Schwartzman. Not bad, not bad at all.

Thiem, A-: He has a wonderful backhand, and he likes to slide.

Juan Martin del Potro, B+: The Argentine is pleased that now he can use the two-handed backhand more often, but the No. 4 can still get tired.

Marco Cecchinato, B-: The Italian came from nowhere. Now there will be a lot of people watching after he stunned Novak Djokovic.

Marin Cilic, B: The No. 5 finally likes clay and he reached the quarters, but DelPo wore him down.

Novak Djokovic, B-: The 12-time GS champion looked pretty good early, but in the quarters, he made some key mistakes. And he was very angry.

Alexander Zverev, B-: He won three, five-setters in a row, which was a heck of a lot of fun. But, his toes were raw, and he went down versus Thiem. The No. 3 needs to pick it up in the Slams.

The women
Simona Halep, A-: It took her many years to settle down, and she did, winning RG. Now the No. 1 will finally be calm inside.

Sloane Stephens, A-: The American played amazing until the final, and in the first set, it looked like that she was ready to win a Slam again. But, in the last two sets, she folded it. However, mentally, on the clay, she improved a lot.

Madison Keys, B+: The big hitter once again revamped on clay, and while she was spotty against Sloane, at least she is healthy again.   

Yulia Putintseva, B+: Many people think that she is not that good, but she practices all the times and she finally made the quarters, beating a number of good players. Maybe she can go even further this year.

Garbine Muguruza, B: The Spaniard looked terrific, smashing Maria Sharapova. But in the semis, she lost it, and she fell against Halep. She is so good, but she doesn’t think enough.  

Angie Kerber, B: The German was playing terrific, fast and aggressive, but in the quarters, in the third set against Halep, she became injured and she collapsed.

Maria Sharapova, B: A decent tournament for the former No. 1, but on court she gets anxious. She has to calm down.

Daria Kasatkina, B: She looked formidable when she upset Caro Wozniacki, but then she lost easily to Stephens. She is very young though and she will continue to improve.

Nadal vs del Potro: Will Juan get tired

FROM ROLAND GARROS – Rafael Nadal played excellent ball on Thursday, beating down Diego Schwartzman 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. 6-2. He was mediocre during the first hour on Wednesday. Then, the rain came and they went home. When they returned, Nadal rose up. His forehand was huge, his serve and his return were heavy. He was in control again.

Now Nadal will face against Juan Martin del Potro, who outlasted Marin Cilic in four grueling sets. DelPo is so intense now, and plus — and this is the most important about the Argentine — his two backhander is better all the time. A few years ago, he could only chip his one-hander, because over the past seven years, he had to go to deal with the doctors who led him to the surgery table — three times.  He admits that here and there, his left arm and his shoulder could be sore, but at least at Roland Garros, his body looks very good.

However, DelPo and Nadal will have to play again on Friday in the afternoon, about 24 hours after they won, so they should be OK for the first couple hours. But after that, Delpo might start getting tired. If so, Nadal will pound him.

Before that, Dominic Thiem and  Marco Cecchinato will face off. Clearly,  Thiem is the favorite, but the Italian stunned Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(13). Cecchinato is really hungry, he is pretty fast and he can muscle up from the backcourt. Thiem has a tremendous spin, with slice, and he can bend down at the net and put it away. The Belgian has been here three times in the semis at RG. It is time for him to reach the final, but if Cecchinato gets into it early, he could shock Thiem.

The women
Sloane Stephens is so solid, she is thinking all the time, she changes her tactics, she cracks it, or she can spin it very deep. She beat her friend Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4, and now she has reached the final at RG. She will face Simona Halep, who out hit Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 6-4.

At times, Halep will back off, but during the afternoon, she moves forward when she could and she would rip her backhand and forehand very deep, crosscourt, or straight, or down the middle. It was an amazingly performance.

Whether the No. 1 Halep can finally win a major on Saturday, that is questionable, because she can be tense. Moreover, Stephens is super steady, and will go for it when she has to. On Friday, we will break it down on

Thiem blasts injured Zverev; dejected Djokovic loses

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Alexander Zverev was physically done. When he woke up in the morning on Tuesday, he felt fresh. But, when he got on the court against Dominic Thiem, his legs were very heavy. In the first set he felt a muscle pull and he needed treatment on his left hamstring. The result? Thiem blasted him in three quick sets.

“First time I felt a pull was in the fourth game of the first set, when we had a few great points, a lot of physical points,” Zverev said. “I remember I slid one time, and then I felt a muscle pull. I thought maybe it’s just soreness or something that would just go away. I didn’t think about it too much. Then each game and each slide, I was getting worse and worse. Middle of the second set, the pain was too much. I knew I’m not going to win the match. There was no way for me.”

Thiem has played great over the past 10 days and has a terrific chance to reach the final at RG.  He is a fantastic mover and his one-handed backhand jumps off the court with a lot of spin. While Zverev won three wonderful five-setters, still, the No. 3 has yet to reach in the semis at a Grand Slam. He is an amazing player, but he has to improve his return, his patience, and most especially, his volleys.

How about the Italian Marco Cecchinato, who stunned Novak Djokovic 6-3 7-6(4) 1-6 7-6(11)? Djokovic played pretty well, overall, but he missed a few key opportunities and Cecchinato was on fire towards the end, with his flashy backhand and forehand. Djokovic was ticked off and he said that he isn’t sure he will play Wimbledon. He was pretty distraught.
“Well I guess he’s not ready physically,” Mats Wilander told Reuters about Zverev. “Maybe he is further away physically than … or maybe it’s a different approach, maybe he needs to not go on grass because grass is the ultimate confidence killer.  Even if you play well on grass the bounce is bad, it’s hard to find good practice courts, you can’t really move properly because you slip and slide and if you are really, really keen to get back to your best, which for him is the hardc ourt season, logically you would not want to play on the grass.”
There are times when you are down and out, and there are times when you wake up and smell the roses. Or in the tennis court, you smell the opportunity. In the third set, Diego Schwartzman began to scramble more, he hit deeper, and he could tell that Kevin Anderson was getting nervous, and hesitant, and a little bit scary.  Schwartzman was down 1-6, 2-6, 4-5, and ka-boom, he rose up. He grabbed the third set, and in the fourth set, Anderson was there to do it again, but he fell back. But in the fifth set, his brain had wilted.  Schwartzman beat Anderson 1-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(0), 6-2.
“It’s definitely one of the most emotional matches that I can say I have played,” said Schwartzman.
No doubt, but he has to go up against Rafa Nadal. It is possible that Schwartzman can win a set, but I doubt it given that Nadal has beaten him all five times, and pretty easily. Hopefully, he has to find something, anything, because Nadal just keeps on pounding.

Del Potro now really likes clay, to face Isner

FROM ROLAND GARROS — A long time ago, Juan Martin del Potro was rising hard and it looked like eventually he would become No. 1. In 2009, he reached the semis at Roland Garros, beating the grinder Tommy Robredo in the quarters. In the semis, he cracked the ball when he could, but Roger Federer was too much for him. However, after three months on the hard courts, DelPo leapt over Federer in the final at the US Open. In the fifth set, DelPo ate it up, hitting a forehand that may be the fastest up to that point or since.
But that has been nine years ago. DelPo has been hurt for many, many years, but now, at least this week, he looks pretty good. He will never totally recover, but as long as he rests, and doesn’t overdo it, then he can stroll on the court and play super hard.

Del Potro has to face John Isner, another big basher. They have played against each other 10 times, six wins by DelPo and four for Isner. Pretty close, no? since 2016 Isner has won three times and DelPo has won two.  This season, Isner won the Miami Masters, knocking back DelPo 6-1, 7-6(2) in the semis.

Are they even? Maybe, but the Argentine has won a Slam, so that it is extremely important. Isner hasn’t.
The two have never played each other on the clay, so that should be more rallies, rather to have short points. You know, both of them can crush the first serves. Whoever wins, eventually, someone will have to face on Rafa Nadal.
“Rafa obviously is the favorite to win. He’s playing unbelievable tennis,” DelPo said. “He’s beating all the guys so quickly. Nobody can find the way to win a set to him.  But I’m doing my own way, and I’m calm with that.” 

When Madison Keys is on the court, she is not getting too angry. She blocks out distractions, and she focuses. On Sunday morning, she was enthusiastic right at the beginning and she nailed winner after winner. She took down Mihaela Buzarnescu
6-1, 6-4, easy in the first set, but in the second, Keys had to be more consistent and focused. When it was 5-4, she sat down, took the towel, wiped it off, got up, took a deep breath and she was ready to hit some big serves. She did, close to the lines. Buzarnescu tried to bring it back, but it was too far away. Keys won and she is into the quarterfinals, the first time at RG. 

“I like it a little bit more [on clay] now,” Keys said with a smile. “It’s always a little bit easier to like it when you’re in the quarterfinals. … My biggest thing is just focusing on what I need to do for my game and having one or two very specific things, whether it’s forehands crosscourt or aim up the middle, just so that I’m not thinking of anything else. I’m just thinking of that tactic and not the moment and it’s a lot easier to handle the big moments that way.”

Sloane Stephens played fantastic on Sunday, destroying Anatt Kontaveit. Now she has reached the quarters at RG for the first time. The US Open champ has a legitimate chance to win it all, it she keeps pushing. … Marco Cecchinato upset David Goffin in four sets. Two days ago, Goffin stayed in there against Gael Monfils, saving four match points. He looked a little slow today and Cecchinato pushed him out.


Rising: Stephens and Sharapova are locking in

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Sloane Stephens was almost done, playing in the third set, against Camille Giorgi, at 6-6, the summer has arrived, and the heat was on.

The Italian was so, so, close, but while she can smack winners, she can also miss it, on the lines. Really, it was the 2017 US Open champ Stephens to decide which way to go, very deep, short, and faster, harder or slower. No one knows whether Giorgi is locked in, or is she a little bit confused. Right at the end, Stephens was thinking hard, while the Italian was over-hitting. 

Stephens won 4-6, 6-1, 8-6. Now she has reached the fourth round, for the fifth time. Is it time for her to finally reach the quarters? Possibly, but not guaranteed. And, by the way, she is now reach No. 8, the highest women American, passing Venus Williams, at the least this week.  

After 10 months off due to her injury, Stephens did return until late June in 2017. She was always smart, but the good news is that when she was off, she watched a lot of tennis on TV and she learned a lot.

“I would say I see the most change in myself, in my own game, but I do think that things are a little different since I came back. Just making a lot balls, being consistent. Obviously when I first came back I had some really great results ,being consistent and wearing girls down. That worked for me. But ,after a while, it’s not going to work. You have to find other ways to improve all the time.”

Stephens has to play Anett Kontaveit, who upset Petra Kvitova. Kontaveit can smack her forehand and backhand, with a mediocre serve, but she can secure on the net.

Maria Sharapova of Russia during her third-round match at the 2018 Roland Garros Grand Slam tennis tournament

Maria Sharapova played a tremendous, fantastic match, blowing out Katarina Pliskova 6-2, 6-1. Sharapova was gone for 15 months, and when she returned in April of 2017, she was pretty shaky. It has been 14 months now, and she has had a few good wins, a few bad ones and some decent ones. She has been hurt a decent amount, but over the past couple of months, she has been pretty healthy. Now, she is more comfortable and she is beginning to swing it out.     
“I don’t like to feel too comfortable. I think there are definitely matches where you play flawless, you play great. But, I have said in my career where I have come off the court and said that was perfect is just a handful of times, because there are always things that you can improve,” Sharapova said.

“There are always errors that kind of creep up, certain moments in a match. Even today I had that long point where she made a dropshot on the run and it was a really long point, could have given me a chance to go up two break points, but it didn’t. It was 30-all. I actually thought to myself, ‘I was, like, no matter the score, I’m not going to let this point define the match.’ You never know. Tennis, that’s what’s so interesting about this game is that every point can really put you back to reality. I thrive on those situations and those moments.”

Next up for Sharapova is Serena Williams who beat Julia Goerges 6-3 6-4. Serena played very well, the best day this year. She was pretty quick, and her serve, forehand and her backhand were deadly. Now she has to play against Sharapova, which could be a fun match, but Serena is 19-2 in the head to head. In 2013 in the final here in RG, Serena won 6-4, 6-4. That was a little bit closer, but still, Serena had been absurdly dominant. In the past 10 years, Serena has won 24 sets, and Maria has won just one. Even though they have changed a lot over the past two years, still, Serna is the favorite, hands down.

Marin Cilic is playing very well, knocking out Steve Johnson in three sets. He likes the heat, and he can be very forceful. He has to play against Fabio Fognini, who overcame Kyle Edmund is five sets. Cilic is the favorite, but the Italian is on a roll and can be a factor here. … David Goffin was almost downed and out in the fourth set, but he recovered to smash some amazing shots. He wore out Gail Monfils 6-7, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. The Belgian likes to move it around. … Rafa Nadal is just crushing the ball. He destroyed Richard Gasquet, for the 16th time. You have to think that Nadal will reach the semis, and then go against, I think, Cilic/Fognini/JM del Potro or — imagine this — John Isner, who just won over Pierre Herbert in four sets . On clay, finally, for Isner.

Petra Kvitova: Ablaze with clay-court winning streak

FROM ROLAND GARROS – A few years ago, she would look great, and then the next day, she would fold. When she won Wimbledon, twice, she would crush the balls, with her forehand, backhand and returns. On grass, she didn’t care about a lot of spin, she would flatten it out, she would aim for the lines, and hit it as hard as she could.

On clay, though, it is a different story. You have to slide, you have to recover your footing, you have to be stoic. Over the years, Kvitova would do that, but not every week. She would smile a lot when she was winning, but when she would lose, she would be frustrated, and slightly sad. In 2012 at Roland Garros, she reached the semis, but she couldn’t figure out Maria Sharapova.

Maybe this could be the same thing, but this year, she has been much more calm and forceful. She is in great shape, and she is quick. She doesn’t get tired hardly at all.

Kvitova has won 13 matches in a row, winning Prague and Madrid, outlasting Kiki Bertens 6-3 in the third. She has won two matches in Roland Garros, so that’s 15 in a row.  On the hard courts, she was a little bit out of it. But on the clay over the past month, she understands everything.
“I lost in the second round in Sydney and first in Australian Open. Then I won two tournaments,” Kvitova said. “And then Indian Wells and Miami wasn’t really great. So, I still feel it’s still up and down. But so far in the clay, I don’t really think that it’s that bad, so I’m trying to be more consistent. I think on the clay especially you need it, to be more consistent, to play more relaxed, staying in the rally, don’t panic that much, and just try. And that’s what it’s really working well for me right now.” She will face the No. 25 Anette Kontaveit in the next round.

Here’s a terrific match-up between Naomi Osaka versus Madison Keys in round three. Both of them are super aggressive, but both of them have to dig in. … Sloane Stephens is already playing fantastic ball, winning two matches, only dropped six games combined. She will face Camila Giorgi who has a lot of variety. … Novak Djokovic is getting better and better, and he will play against the veteran Roberto Bautista Agut. It would be pretty close for a while, but Djokovic has a much better backhand than he does. … Grigor Dimitrov survived Jared Donaldson 10-8 in the fifth, a long day. Now he will have to face Fernando Verdasco, another smooth veteran like the Bulgarian. Given that it took over four hours for Dimitrov to win, he cannot grind it in the next round. He has to go for it early when he can.  

Tick-tock: In Paris, patience is important on clay

It was a wonderful day in Paris. It was sunny, it was warm, and the fans were smiling. But, on court, in the first Sunday, there were some important losers.

Venus Williams went down, so did Jo Konta, and somewhat shockingly, Jelena Ostapenko , the 2017 RG champion. She said: ‘It was terrible day at the office for me. In general I played maybe like 20% of what I can play. Made like 50 unforced errors and so many double faults. Like I couldn’t serve. Everything together just brought me a really bad result.”

Oh, yes, she did.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure. But, not for everyone, because certain mediocre people don’t think they have a chance to win it all, and that is too bad.

Venus Williams can still play fantastic at times. In two weeks, she will be 38 years old. She is still a top 10 player, and she will play until 40 years old, at least, assuming she is healthy. But that is a long time. Against Wang Qiang, Venus changed her tactics repeatedly, but she couldn’t keep it inside the baseline, spraying 35 unforced errors. On clay, she just can’t figure it out. She may never do that. But really, Wang played aggressive and very thoughtfully. She is an excellent doubles player, but maybe now Wang will feel better in the singles? We will find out, immediately. 

In the first half of 2017, Konta was bashing the ball and she cracked the top 10 after winning Miami. But since then, she has slipped, and she is pretty confused. She has to shake it off. 

The good thing on Sunday among the women was Sloane Stephens, who blasted her foe, Arantxa Rus. Alize Cornet came back and knocked off Sara Errani in three sets, and the No. 4 Elina Svitolina really has a chance to grab the title. If she contains herself.  

Among the men, a few of the top guys won pretty eroundasily, with Grigor Dimitrov, Alexandra Zverev and Dominic Thiem sailing into the second round. Dimitrov won the 2017 ATP Finals, and he was rising quickly, but this year, he has been so-so. He actually really likes playing on clay, and he said that every year, he has improved, sliding around, slicing it, topping it. But can he won RG for the first time? Or even reach the semis? He has to step up, and he has to be very calm at the Slams, because he has yet to win a major. Even any tournament this season. Tick-tock.  

Report card: top five women in Rome

Here are the women with the best results last week in Rome.

Elena Svitolina A+
In Rome, in 2017, Svitolina finally rose, winning the tournament. Two weeks later in Paris, she backed off, was nervous and she lost early. But she never stopped trying. In 2018, last week, she played brilliantly. She is so quick, so powerful, and she is very smart. She won the event fairly easily, crushing Simona Halep in the final. Now, once again, she has a legitimate chance to win a Grand Slam at Roland Garros. But there will be pressure, serious pressure …

Simona Halep A
Props to beating Maria Sharapova in the semis. She could have folded but she did not, she ripped her shots and she jumped on it. Unfortunately, in the final, Halep was exhausted. Her legs were very heavy, and she couldn’t run fast enough against Svitolina. Still, the No. 1 Halep was more than respectable, so for the “millionth” time, she has a shot to win her first Grand Slam. If she remains focused …  

Maria Sharapova B+
Even though Sharapova lost in the semis against Halep, she played substantially better last week. Finally. She took a breath, she hustled, she was patient when she could. Yes, she can be erratic and still, a little off. She won Roland Garros twice. So, when she arrives in Paris, she may not win, but she will push, hard. There, her confidence will return. 

Anett Kontaveit B+
Out of almost nowhere, Kontaveit reached the semis, upsetting CoCo Vandeweghe, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Venus Williams, and Caro Wozniacki before losing to Svitolina. On clay, Kontaveit looks pretty darn good. So, at RG in Paris, she could be a real factor.

Jelena Ostapenko B
Believe it or not, the 2017 Roland Garros champion is getting better. She has had a tough year, but she did reach the final in Miami on hardcourts. In Rome last week, she did beat Jo Konta, and then, went down against Sharapova 7-5 in the third. Ostapenko was very close to that win. While the 20-year-old person can blast the ball from both wings, she has to be a little more comfortable with staying in longer rallies. She did win Paris last year, smoking the ball, so maybe she can do it again.

Rome: Once again, Nadal vs. Djokovic, Sharapova vs. Halep

On Saturday, in Rome, on the dirt, the winners will be darn happy, and the losers will put their heads down and become disappointed. That always happens to intense players, that is. When they are great players, they have to think about what went wrong, and how they will fix it. The top players are always thinking. so this weekend in Italy, they will battle, at least for a while, and at the end, they will either make the shots, or fly away to Paris.

To start on Saturday, Elena Svitolina will go up against Anett Kontaveit. Svitolina is a tough person, she is very strong, and she belts it. The 22-year-old Kontaveit is gradually learning, and she can be very steady, except that she has had a so-so year. This week, she has put together a couple terrific wins, like bashing Caro Wozniacki, and overcoming Venus Williams. But the same goes with Svitolina, who jumped over Angie Kerber, who is a very steady person. The No. 4 Svitolina is ready to grind Kontaveit until she will slip away.    

Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic will face off for the 51st time. The Serbian has won 26 times, and the Spaniard has won 24 times. On clay, Nadal has won it 15 times and Djokovic has won seven times. Clearly, Nadal is better on clay than anyone. On the hardcourts, Djokovic is better than Nadal. But this is on clay, and while Mr. Novak has played better for the first time this year, still, as he has said, he still has a long way to go. Of course, when Djokovic became hurt last year, and his steely legs began to slip, and then, he grew nervous and upset. This week, Djokovic has been steady and a little more confident. But Nadal is cracking his forehand — as always — his serves are spot on, and his up and down backhand has been almost superior this week. On clay, he will attempt to pound Djokovic until he falls down.

Right after that, No. 1 Simona Halep will go up against Maria Sharapova. Let us hope that it will be a phenomenal match, but the American-Russian just played for more than three hours when she edged Jelena Ostapenko on Friday. While she is pleased because her body isn’t too sore, still, she can get tired the next day. Sharapova has been better that Halep, on clay, because a few years ago, because at the 2014 Roland Garros final a few years ago, it was darn close in the third set. At 4-4, Halep began to push, while Sharapova attacked her again and again, and then she won it.

Yes, Halep never gives up, and now, at the non-Slams, she will swing hard. She has yet to win a Grand Slam, though, and that is painful. But this week, in Rome, she is more calm and one way or another, she will force Sharapova to run all day. Halep is likely the favorite in Rome on Saturday. But there should be some amazing points.   

The last match will be between Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev. Cilic doesn’t love clay, but he tries, he can be steady, and the tall man can smoke his serves and his forehand. In the past few weeks, the young man Zverev has played tremendous ball. He is steady, he can nail his forehand and his backhand, down the line, crosscourt, in the middle — he rarely misses it. Zverev won Madrid last week and now he has a chance to reach the final again. He might be tired, but he wants it. So does everyone … who wants it more?

Zverev grabs Madrid; Nadal hopes to rebound in Rome

What an incredible week for Alexandra Zverev, who won Madrid, hands down. In the final, he out hit Dominic Thiem in straight sets. In the past two weeks, he has been not only more patient, but he had a good idea of where the balls are coming from and is setting up his replies better. Everything was working in Spain, as he smacked his first serves and he leapt on top of his forehand and backhand. He kept is focus and then went for big shots.

Zverev has won three ATP 1000 Masters Series crowns. That means that he is right there to become No. 1 pretty soon. Not immediately, but soon enough, assuming that he stays healthy and he continues to improve.

Last year, Zverev won Rome. This week, he will be there again. Can he actually grab it once again? Possibly, but remember that last week, Rafa Nadal actually lost, going down against Thiem. Nadal was riding a record 50-set winning streak on the dirt. But eventually, he played against another excellent player — like Thiem — and he was off a little bit. That’s all it took.

The good thing for Nadal is that he had a few days to rest. He won Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and then he went to Madrid. That is a lot of matches. We would imagine that he isn’t injured, so when he comes to Rome, he will be itching to dominate again. Nadal has won Rome seven times. That is a tremendous amount. Because of that, even though Zverev just won Madrid, Nadal is the favorite. However, with Zverev rising quickly, once again, the Spaniard Nadal has to show him that he can contain him. 

On Sunday in Rome, three Americans won: Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson, who beat Stan Wawrinka. That’s a fine win by Johnson.

Wawrinka just returned from a run of limited play, competing in only his fifth tournament this year. It is admirable that the three-time major champion Wawrinka didn’t retire, because he pulled out a few times this season because he wanted to play so badly, but his body has failed. Hopefully, he feels 100 percent. Just wait until he gets to Roland Garros, he loves that tournament.

Arrivederci Roberta!
Among the women, played her last WTA match in her country’s capital, Rome. She fell to Aleksandra Krunic in the first round  The Italian has always fought, she liked to mix it up and spin it. The 35-year-old did reach a Grand Slam final, at the US Open, and she had a fantastic career. She won’t go very far this week, but still, she will show them off.

Another Italian is going to retire this year as Francesca Schiavone is 37 years old and it is time to wave goodbye. She said he’s aiming for the end of the year. But for sure, she put together some fantastic matches over the past 20 years, especially at Roland Garros eight years ago, when she won it. She played lights out.

Sloane Stephens will play at night. She didn’t play great last week. It is time to dig down and commit to playing tough. … The same goes with CoCo Vandeweghe, who came very close to winning Stuttgart, but she couldn’t do it. Now she will attempt to do shine in Rome. She has to face Anett Kontaveit, who is pretty young, but she is very talented. Another toss up. … American Danielle Collins qualified, and she will face Camila Giorgi in the first round on Monday. I still cannot believe that she is the top 50 now. Last year, she was out of the top 100. She is very committed.