Notes on a Draw Sheet: Murray smokes Nadal to win Madrid; Kvitova won, on to Rome. Djokovic favored, but is Serena?

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MAY 10 – Props to Andy Murray, who won his first gigantic tournament on clay by beating Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2 at Madrid. For the first time against the Spaniard on dirt, he never panicked, he wasn’t afraid, he was very impressive and he actually believed that he could out hit with his phenomenal backhand. Years ago, he stayed way back behind the baseline and frequently push the ball with his forehand, but not anymore. Now he believes that he can crack his forehand when moving forward and he would dictate as fast as he can.

Roger Federer was not going to participate in Rome, but then he lost early against Nick Kyrgios at Madrid and he changed his mind. He played fairly well in winning Istanbul, but he played against the lower-ranked guys. If he is going to go very deep at Roland Garros, he has to beat the better competitors and if he manages to face the other Big 4 (Djokovic, Nadal and Murray) he must be very close. If he does he will become more confident. Kyrgios could play against his fellow Aussie, Bernard Tomic. They are super close and respectful of each other but Tomic doesn’t want the younger kids beating him yet – or ever. However, Nick has to play Feliciano Lopez in the opening round … first things first.

The No. 1 Novak Djokovic decided not to play in Madrid because he was exhausted. So now he will be super fresh. Obviously he is the favorite on clay because Nadal is panicking. Could the Serbian lose? I doubt it, but he will face the former No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, who is very fast and can run around for a long time. Maybe he will go up against Kei Nishikori in the quarters which could be a terrific match if the Japanese keeps forward, and should he face Murray in the semis, well, we know that the Brit is on fire now. He hasn’t beat him in a long time, though.

John Isner has improved since March and now he has a solid draw, playing Joao Sousa in the first round. If he wins there he would face Leonardo Mayer. Rome is slower than Madrid. Isner will have to work very hard, but assuming he scores both wins then it is very likely that he will face Nadal. He has been close of beating him before and given that Rafa is shaky mentally, Isner would have a legitimate. Currently ranked No. 33, the young American Jack Sock could be seeded at Roland Garros. He will have a very tough task against Gilles Simon who, when he is happy and feeling right, can be excellent. You never know when Simon shows up. Oh my, Alexandr Dolgopolov has fallen to No. 73, but good for him for qualifying. We would assume that the former No. 13 is now back on track.

THE WOMEN

Petra Kvitova crushed Svetlana Kuznetsova to win Madrid. She looks faster; she was under control and torching both wings. If she plays as well she did in smoking Serena Williams and Kuznetsova, then she will be a huge threat to win Roland Garros for the first time. But as good as she can be, she rarely has been able to be excellent over a month or so. She can get tired and she can get upset with herself. At Rome, even if she loses, she has to move on. She beat Serena for the first time ever, which was huge because now she finally believes she can beat the best players. If she is feeling good mentally and she is healthy, perhaps the two-time Wimbledon champion can show the world that she has learned how exactly to play the right way at the French Open.

I wouldn’t be concerned about Serena finally losing. It’s impossible to win every time out and on clay over the years. Now the 33-year-old has taken some great wins and some bad losses. She is the favorite at Italy and at Roland Garros, but it won’t be easy. At Rome, she might have to face the former US Open champ Sam Stosur in the second round, which could be a marathon. Check out the potential fourth round: Ana Ivanovic, Belinda Bencic, Daria Gavrilova, Kateryna Pliskova or (gulp) Sloane Stephens. Brutal and extremely tough, who ever it is.

Maria Sharapova played pretty well in Madrid until playing Svetlana Kuznetsova and then she stopped. Now she needs to step it up in Rome. She could play Caroline Garcia in the third round (a match that was very close in Madrid) or against Madison Keys, who is dangerous but who didn’t play well in Spain…Here is the biggest match in the second round: Caroline Wozniacki could face Victoria Azarenka, who has beaten the Dane twice this year. The Belarussian is the favorite so it is up to Wozniacki to figure it out and go for her. She can’t back off all the time if she is going to have a real chance…Here is a shocker: Wozniacki hooks up with the former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario as her coach a few weeks ago, the Spaniard looked pretty good at Madrid and all of sudden Sanchez=Vicario bails out as she says that she cannot be able to travel toRome and Paris. Where did that come from? Why would the three-time RG champion have agreed to help Caro and then wave good buy already? There is something very fishy. Such is Sanchez-Vicario’s strange life.

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