2023 Australian Open favorites

The women

Jessica Pegula
Rick Limpert

With the women, clearly, the favorite is No. 1 Iga Swiatek. But, she has never won in Melbourne. She can be very aggressive on the hardcourts. Last year, Ash Barty won it and then retired. However, one of the Americans, Sofia Kenin, won it in 2020, but then she went straight downhill. Maybe she will get going again but she has to turn thing around quickly, because she has to face Vika Azarenka in the first round. Azarenka won it twice in 2012 and 2013. Now she is playing decently, but she is not great right now. Both of them are super fierce and then they can go for the lines. Sometimes they miss it, the other times they can control play in the backcourt. But, to win it, that would be very surprising.

Three American women should reach the second week or to get into the final: Coco Gauff, Madison Keys, and Danielle Collins. But 18-year-old Gauff, who reached into the final at Roland Garros, would have to beat Świątek in the quarters if they both advance to that round.

Keys is a former US Open finalists and Collins reached that level at the Australian Open. No one won, but at least they played were tough outs all the way to the finals. Maybe something occurred, either they were too nervous, or maybe they were not strategic.

Another veteran, Jessica Pegula, is ranked No. 3, which means that she has been much more assertive with her ground strokes. She won Guadalajara in the fall and that was her best tournament ever. However, she has yet to go deep at the Slams, so this will be a huge challenge for her to show she can dominate in a major.

There are others who can win a Slam for the first time: Caroline Garcia, Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari, Daria Kasatkina, Belinda Bencic and Amanda Anisimova. The big question is: Does anyone here have a real shot?

Stefanos Tsitsipas

The men

To win the Australian Open, you have to be super patient and also mash the ball. Novak Djokovic has won it eight times,and Rafa Nadal grabbed it twice. Serena Williams also won it many times, but she retired last year. Naomi Osaka, took it twice, but now she is not playing because she is pregnant.

There are some people who can win a major for the first time. How about the men? Yes, Djokovic and Nadal, who won it last year, are the favorites,. But, there are more than a few who can win it for the first time like Nick Kyrgios, Andrey Rublev, Casper Ruud, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and Americans Taylor Fritz, Sebastian Korda and Frances Tiafoe.

Here is what is odd: among active men only Djokovic, Nadal and Stan Wawrinka have won Aussie Open in the past 25 years. Repeat: no one managed to grind it and nail the shots. Plus, those three really understand what to do during the matches. Plus, their strokes, serves and returns are fantastic. Medvedev managed to reach the final against Nadal last year. He was so coherent all the time, but in the finalps fifth set, Nadal threw some astonishing shots and he beat him 7-5. The Russian can look so steady, but after that he was mentally down. If he rises again, then perhaps he can be much more solid.

The Aussie Kyrgios is one of the hardest hitter on court. He can slug his forehand, he can clip his first serve and he really likes to be creative during the points. 

There are some who have a real chance to control matches and go deep at the Slams, such as the basher Andrey Rublev, the thoughtful Casper Ruud, the hustling Felix Auger-Aliassime and the Mr. Variety Matteo Berrettini. Now there are three American men who are seeded and can go deep too: Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Sebastian Korda. Fritz won Indian Wells last year, upsetting Nadal. At the ATP Finals, he looked very good, but it will be different at the Slams. Tiafoe reached the 2022 US Open semis and he was spinning around, and he hit some unreal shots. So if he can go into the semis, then perhaps he can take the gloves off. Korda’s dad, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open. So, if Sebastian can lock in early, then without a doubt, he can reach into the second week — or further.

Three players have outside chances to the final at Melbourne, such as Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem. They have all won a Slam — not on the Australian Open — but they have took it on the hardcourt. It is possible that they can win more than a few matches, but to win it all, that would be almost shocking.

TennisReporters.net’s top 32 in 2022: men 20-16

Karen Khachanov, Frances Tiafoe, Denis Shapovalov, Marin Cilic, Matteo Berrettini

Matteo Berrittini
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

No. 20: Karen Khachanov
The tall Russian reached the semis at the US Open, knocking down Nick Kyrgios in five tough sets, one of his best matches this year. He can really blast the ball. However, the reason why he won’t reach the final at the Grand Slam is because he can lose control and then he can throw in to many errors. In the semis, Casper Ruud moved him around and when he had a real chance, the Russian didn’t go for it.  Khachanov had a very decent year, but both Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic had no problem beating him. If Khachanov wants to improve a lot, then he has to return much better and more respectable at the net. Add bring more game, please.

No. 19: Frances Tiafoe
The American had his best year, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas, Rafa Nadal, and Andrey Rublev. In the US Open semis, the now No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz edged him in five brutal sets. When he is feeling rational, he can chop anyone in the match, but other times, he can be ticked off. He can mash his forehand and his backhand, and his first serve is very stout. He is OK at the net. But his returns are spotty. He still is young, and he is better than he was five years ago. If he wants to reach into the top 10, then he will have to enhance the return, second serve, and for sure, net game. He needs to continue to battle, using one of his greatest strengths.

No. 18: Denis Shapovalov
The Canadian is so up and down. When his game is off, his ground strokes come up too short. Two years ago, he reached the top 10 and it looked like he had a fine chance to go further, but he did not, losing some critical matches. He split a couple matches against Rafa Nadal, going down in five sets in the Australian Open in the quarters, and then later, on clay in Rome, Shapovalov beat the Spaniard in three sets. He loves the rallies. If he can find an extra level of consistency, then without a doubt he can reach into the top 5 eventually. Perhaps in 2023.

No. 17: Marin Cilic
It has been so long ago since he won the 2014 US Open, when this immense hitter was so consistent and patient. Yes, the now 34-year-old is very strong, and he can shatter his forehand. He also can be measured with his backhand. While he is very tall, he can bend down and pick up low shots. However, he plays almost every week, which was OK.when he was young. But, when you are age, you have to take more time off. People have asked him, and he said, “I just want to play.” Go ahead, then, and see if your body is 100 percent. He will find out shortly.

No. 16: Matteo Berrettini
At times the Italian had a terrific year, reaching No. 6 after he reached the semis at the Australian Open, before he lost to Nadal in four sets. He is so swift and he can also switch which way he is going. He has big shots that he can strike into the corners, down the middle and with a lot of top spin. He returns pretty good, but his serve is so-so. He did win Stuttgart over Andy Murray on the grass. Then he won Queens. Then after that, at various tournaments, he fluctuated between good and mediocre. He has won on clay and grass, but he has yet to win a hard court. I would think that has thought about it a lot. To do it in 2023, he will have to do something different.

Coming of age: Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe reach the finals

Taylor Fritz

No. 1 Novak Djokovic is back, planning to play again in Paris this week. During the summer, he looked mind blowing, but, once in a while, he can lost. You cannot be perfect each match.

However, in the US Open final, Daniil Medvedev was so patient and powerful. The No. 2 is also in France, along with Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. The so-called top four.

Zverev just won in Vienna, beating American Frances Tiafoe, 7-5 6-4. Zverev crushed his serves, and he had no double-faults. He was patient and courtly. Since the summer, he began to re-think of what he had to do. For example, when he missed a few bad shots, he used to get very agitated. But now, he will turn it around and be super intent. Not only can he bust the ball, Zverev also he can meld it up. He is feeling startling competent.

Tiafoe had a terrific week. He did not win, but he has the best week this year. He took down three very good players, stunning Jannik Sinner, Diego Schwartzman and Tsitsipas. He is playing consistently and more aggressive. His esteem has finally rose. He needs to return better and, at the net, but both his forehand and his backhand is tracking deeper.

Taylor Fritz reached the final in St. Petersburg, but he lost, too. However, he was very close against the veteran, Marin Cilic. Both of them like to pummel the balls, but they also like to rally. Cilic won 7-6(3) 4-6 6-4, and he toughed it out. There are times when he is loose with little self-confidence, and there are times when he can focus. This year, he has been so-so. But, on certain days when he keeps his head, he is a worthy opponent, Remember, when he won the 2014 US Open, he was almost perfect.

The San Diego native Fritz has played a lot, playing 20 tournaments in 2021. He is now ranked No. 26, which is pretty good, Perhaps in the next few weeks he can reach the top 20 before the end of the year. That would be just fine, which will be his career high. He can volley, and he can go for the lines, but if he wants to push into the top 10 next year, then he has to re-adjust, and like Tiafoe, he has to return more efficiently.

ATP Finals: Zverev wins biggest title, stunning Djokovic

Here’s a wrap-up of the 2018 season for the eight ATP Finals singles players.

Alexander Zverev
From August all the way through November, Zverev played well at times, but mostly mediocre. But last week in London, Zverev stood up tall, stunning Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 to win the title. 

He was so locked in, so good, smashing his serves, his forehand and backhand and also being patient. The 21-year-old won Munich, the ATP 1000 Madrid, Washington and now, London. “I’m unbelievably happy, obviously it’s the biggest title that I’ve ever won,” said Zverev. And how. 

This year, he beat eight Top 10ers. On Saturday and Sunday, he overcame Roger Federer and Djokovic. That is almost impossible to do. The No. 4 Zverev has yet to go very deep in the Slams, but in 2019, he will be very confident and stoical.

Novak Djokovic
The 14-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic has had a terrific second half of the year, winning Wimbledon, Cincy, the US Open, and Shanghai. On Sunday, he had only lost twice since June, to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Toronto, and Karen Khachanovin in Paris. It looked like he was almost invincible. 
But in the final, he played OK, didn’t serve well during the second set, and he didn’t return with his usual tour-topping skill. However, you cannot win every week; it is going to happen, once in a while. Djokovic will stay as the No. 1 at the start of 2019, but the most important thing for him is to keep on churning.

Roger Federer
The 37-year-old Federer had two good wins against Dominic Thiem and Kevin Anderson, and two losses against Nishikori and then in the semis to Zverev. Not good enough for him? Probably not, because he wants to win at the most important events, and the No. 3 really, really wanted to grab it in the ATP Finals. He would have had 100 titles, in front of everyone, and he would have been so darn happy. But, he did not and for the next two months or so, he will be stuck at 99 wins. He must be think: “Ugh.”    

Kevin Anderson 
The South African/American looked terrific, winning two matches against  Nishikori and Thiem to start, but then the tide turned, and he lost easily to Federer and Djokovic. Yes, he had a fine year, winning two small events and he reached the final at Wimbledon. Can Anderson win a major in 2019? Hard to say. He has improved his backhand and speed, but the tall man is still a little bit slow. However, if he can return better, then maybe he can raise the Slam trophy in 2019. Maybe.

Marin Cilic 
There are days when you think that he is playing so clean, so smart, and so intense. But there are also days when inside his head, that he gets frustrated and then he gets mentally down. Yes, he had a very decent year, but for Cilic, unless he gets to No. 1, he is very disappointed. He has won one major title, the 2014 US Open, and he has also reached the final at 2017 Wimbledon, and this year,  at the Australian Open. There is no doubt that he will be a force again in 2019. But, to get his second Slam, he has to be steadier and focused at the net.

Kei Nishikori
After the Japanese stunned Federer, it looked like he was ready to take down all of them. But he did not, and he flipped out, losing so easily against Anderson and Thiem. Later, he said he had no idea why. That is so true. However, he did play pretty well most of the season, and he wasn’t that hurt at all, which is very good, considering that he had been injured for so many years. 
Nishikori is very fast, he leaps up into the sky a lot, and he puts the ball away.  
Can he actually win a Grand Slam someday? That is questionable because in the second week, he eventually gets tired and then starts coughing up the unforced errors. Hopefully, in 2019, he will continue to be healthy. If he does, Nishikori will go deep at some big events.
Dominic Thiem 
The Austrian has been creative this year. He mixes it up, he will spin it, chop it, and flatten it out. On clay, he was way up there, reaching the final at Roland Garros. But, on the hard courts, while he has improved during 2018, it has taken the 25-year-old a pretty long time to be a force. He is trying, though, he is stuck on the baseline. Maybe, he can push himself forward. He played a few good matches last week. He wasn’t able to reach the semis, but maybe next year in London at the O2, he can grab and actually win it.
John Isner 
The American was pretty thrilled that he made it into the ATP Finals, slipping in when Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro had to withdraw because of another late-year injury. He was excited and he was hopeful. He tried but lost all three of his matches. As he said before it started, there are some amazing players here. So, Isner had a small chance. Unfortunately, he couldn’t raise his game. Without a doubt, he did improve his backhand, and at net game, bending low. Maybe in 2019, Isner can crack the top 5. That would be even more special. 

The heat is on as Cilic, Djokovic, Kvitova triumph

FROM THE US OPEN — Yes, we all know that the heat was stifling. It was very hot and super sticky. It happens in August, everywhere in the United States. Plus, each year, throughout the world, it will continue to become hotter and hotter. Not very quickly, but it is coming and all of you should know that. So if you like to exercise outside, get up early so you can avoid the hard sun.

Even though six men retired today, they should be used to dealing with the weather. So even if it felt brutal, as Marin Cilic (who won, BTW) said, if you want to play tennis, you have to realize that some days, it is going to stink. But in many others days, on court, it is somewhat comfortable.

Novak Djokovic won today, beating Martin Fucsovics 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0. In the second set, and in the third set, he was down 4-1. He looked tired and slow; he was missing everything. Then all of a sudden, he picked it up and ran again. He drank as much as he could, he was fast and powerful and then, Fucsovics faded, he began to be sick. Djokovic crushed him, quickly. Djokovic is confident and he can be thoughtful. He is back, and he believes that he will improve even more.
“It’s a process. After surgery I actually thought that I’m ready to compete on a high level, which I wasn’t,” Djokovic said. “Surgery is quite an aggressive way to eliminate the issue that you have. But, it was inevitable. When you say ‘aggressive,’ that means it takes quite some time to actually recuperate all the confidence and comfort on the court, of striking the ball the way you did before that. I could feel that firsthand actually how long it takes to bring back that flow in the game.

“It took me about three, four months really to start playing consistently well match after match. I struggled in those three, four months. I’ve never faced this particular situation before, so for me it was something new but something I had to face. I’ve learned a lot in the process. I managed to grow and understand, what it takes really to get to the desired level. So last couple months have been really good for me on the court. Wimbledon win was a huge relief, more than anything else, because I just personally put a lot of expectations and pressure on myself. I’ve usually done that in the past. I think it also taught me a lesson to be more patient, to be less hard on myself and understand that some things take time. You just have to accept that and embrace it.”

He should win in three sets against American Tennys Sandgren.

Petra Kvitova won, beating Yanina Wickmayer. She has won Wimbledon twice, and she has gone deep in the semis at Roland Garros and the Australian Open, but she was never rose up at the US Open, only reaching the quarters in 2015 and 2017. But, as she says, in August in New York, she can get tired pretty quickly. 

However, even though she was disappointed when she lost in the first round at the 2018 Wimbledon, she continued to work and strive. On the hard courts, the No. 5 looked decent, but not spectacular. We will see if she gets better and better this week. And next week, if she gets there.
“Wimbledon was just kind of disaster for myself. But always when you’re lost, you are trying to learn something from it, and of course it’s not that easy,” she said.

“But luckily I played good in the tournaments before, so I think the pressure kind of fell down a bit. I know it’s not the strongest part of the year and still I played good tennis. I think that’s maybe it can help a little bit free here. But, of course, that as a seeded player, the pressure is always there. So far I had a great season, so of course that everyone is watching, but I don’t really feel it here.”

She will face against Yafan Wang, and Kvitova will win in three long sets.

Fascinating matchups coming up at Wimbledon

Roger Federer actually lost on Sunday against Borna Coric in the final in Halle. The Swiss won a tournament in Stuttgart, and the next week, he was a little flat, but it’s not like he was all bad. In the final, in the third set, Coric kept digging and nailing the winners, grabbing it 6-2. 

The Croatian has improved a good amount this year, especially in the last six months. He has only won two titles, but still, he reached the semis at Indian Wells, and he nearly upset Federer on the hardcourts. This time, on grass — which Coric never loved — the strong young man went for it. And that is why he won.

Now, even though Coric is rising. It will take him even more time, because he can still back off, and that is why he didn’t go deep at Roland Garros. However, not only did Coric upset Federer, he also knocked down Alexander Zverev. That was very significant. Now he is ranked No. 21. It will be fascinating to watch next week. By the way, Coric has yet to reach a second week at the Slams — ever. It is time for him to step it up.

Last year at Wimbledon, Federer won the title once again, not even dropping a set, including battering Marin Cilic in the final. Can ‘Rog’ win it again? For sure, he is the favorite, according to Novak Djokovic, who just reached the final at Queen’s. But while those two can win Wimby again — combined that would be 11 titles, eight for Federer and three for Djokovic — that doesn’t mean that someone new can snag it. Perhaps Cilic, for the first time on the beloved grass, Rafael Nadal, who has won here before, but generally, after he wins Roland Garros, he has played so many matches, a ton of matches, on clay. Maybe his legs and arms are OK, but he pulled out of Queen’s. So, perhaps, during Wimbledon, he will break down, with a same old injury. But let’s hope not.

As  Djokovic said: “It’s always very close. I mean, Roger, I think everyone will agree that Roger is the No. 1 favorite. But Cilic is right up there, next to him. Cilic, Nadal, these guys.”

And Novak, too.

Injured Serena pulls out, Sharapova moves on 

March 08, 2018: Serena Williams (USA) hits a backhand in her match against Zarina Diyas (KAZ) at the BNP Paribas Open played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. ©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

FROM ROLAND GARROS — It is to bad that Serena Williams withdrew; her arms and her shoulders really hurt a lot, which is why she had to way goodbye. She will see the doctors in Paris tomorrow. Will she will recover, quickly, and play Wimbledon? She loves Wimbledon — she has won it seven times — so she will push herself as much as she can. Hurt, or not.

Serena was supposed to play against Maria Sharapova. So the American/Russian didn’t have a chance to to attack Williams and test herself. Not this week, though, maybe in Wimbledon, or during the rest of the summer. They both hope so.

Sharapova will face Garbine Muguruza, who also advanced when Lesia Tsurenko retired after just two games. That is too bad, because there are a lot of fans who come out to watch the tennis and when there are just a few people playing, maybe the fans won’t want to come anymore. There are too many injuries, year after year.

On the women’s side, there were two other matches on Monday, and there were two blow outs: Simona Halep crushed Elise Mertens, and Angie Kerber whacked Caroline Garcia in straight sets.

Yesterday, on the bottom half, all four matches were contested, and there were no three-setters. However, there was a fun contest with Daria Kasatkina and Caro Wozniacki. There were some incredible rallies, and Kasatkina outlasted her 7-6, 6-3.

On Sunday and Monday, there was only one good match. Let’s hope on Tuesday, there will be some wonderful contests, maybe Sloane Stephens against Daria Kasatkina. That must go three sets, with two cage players. They will have a huge amount of long strokes. Whomever will worn her down, she will reach into the semis.

The Men

Juan Martin del Potro is so incredibly confidence now. He bested John Isner 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, crushing his forehand, his big serve and he moved fairly well. He also scampers to the net and puts it away.

Isner had a good nine days at RG. He knows that his gigantic serve and her massive forehand, and he hustles. But, for the past 10 years, he hasn’t been able to figure out how to be an effective returner. He can do it here and there, but this was on clay, which is slower, and softer, and he couldn’t break it against DelPo. Not once.

“If I would have lost today, I would have liked to maybe put up a better fight. So that’s a little disappointing,” Isner said. “Delpo certainly has one of the best forehands in the world, especially when he’s feeling it out there. And if he’s able to get in position and take a rip at that shot, it’s going to be very lethal. So it’s very good for tennis to have him playing well again and being healthy.”

Marin Ciclic needed five sets to push back Fabio Fognini. It was up-and-down for both of them, playing well, missing it, re-doing it, over-thinking. As Cilic said, it was “extremely tough mentally.” And how.

On Wednesday, two of the excellent top 5 veterans will clash. Years ago, from Cilic and DelPo, they struggled on clay. Still, sometimes, they make too many errors. But here at RG, they are going exactly what they can do. They are almost a tossup, both of them have won the US Open — on hard courts. On clay, even thought they can nail their forehands, they have to return deep.

“We played many times. We know each other,” Cilic said. “He won a lot of our matches in these last few years, and we had few tough ones. One of them was the Davis Cup match, that was the last one. That was a big match. [Argentina won the Davis Cup]. Juan Martin is having great season playing great tennis.
And then [we] are playing similar games but still different. I think in some ways I’m maybe a little bit quicker on the court, but he’s in some ways serving a little bit better, hitting off his forehand side bigger and more consistently. So just in those comparisons, it’s always a tough matchup between both of us.”

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.

Report card: top five men in Rome

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

Rafa Nadal A+
The Spaniard can be so-so at times, and he knows that, and he says that, even if we don’t always believe him. On clay, when he is on top of his game, he is control 95 percent of the time. When he was close to losing the final to Alexander Zverev, he stepped up, smacked his forehand and weaker backhand, and he found his range. He is super smart and driven. Nadal will come into Roland Garros this week and be a serious favored to win it again: that would be 11 times. Wow!

Alexander Zverev A-
The German was pretty close to winning Rome, moving forward, pounding his backhand and serving big. The 21-year-old has had a terrific three weeks, beating 13 different players, knocking down a few of the best. But as Zverev has said, he was so close to put down Nadal for the first time but coulnd’t make it happen at the end of the match. With a break in the third, he lost his fire. Can he win in Paris? That is unsure.

Novak Djokovic B+
At least the former No. 1 reached the semis. While he lost against Nadal, he was finally a little bit confident and focused. He may not love clay, but he is a very good player from top to bottom. As long as he stays healthy, he will return to the top 10, then into the top 5, but after that, to win a Grand Slam this year? The jury is out.

Marin Cilic B+
The Croat had a very good week in Rome. Yes, he didn’t win, but at least he hustled and changed his tactics. Reaching the semis on clay makes Cilic smile.

Kei Nishikori B
The Japanese also had a good week, not retiring, staying in there. He never gave up. He and Djokovic had some fun rallies, and coming up to Roland Garros, I am sure they will be practicing for many hours.

Nadal, Djokovic: back on track in Monte Carlo

Rafa Nadal won easily in Monte Carlo, crushing Aljaz Bedene 6-1 6-3. He loves clay — he is an addict — and when he walks on the court, he is already locked in. In the last 10 years, he rarely — and I mean rarely — loses. That’s it. He is the best clay court ever, hands down, but he gets hurt a lot, so now, he is vulnerable. However, this week, if he is healthy, he is the favorite. But, there will be some close matches.  
Novak Djokovic finally played well, and it has taken a year — or two years — the Serbian has said. He was pretty lost at Indian Wells and Miami. In Monte Carlo, over the last three days, he is faster, comfortable, and powerful.

Will it last? I would think so, but he has to be patient because the 12-time Grand Slam champion isn’t there yet. He beat Borna Coric 7-6(2) 7-5, which was huge, because Coric has been very confident over the past two months. Coric is very steady, and the same goes with Djokovic. They played for two-and-a-quarter hours, but the Serbian reached back and nailed it.

Good for Marin Cilic, who beat Fernando Verdasco 6-3 7-6(4). Verdasco does like clay, but Cilic is up and down. However, one this day, he was calm and, when he had the opportunity, he moved forward. His first serve is massive, and his forehand is gigantic. But to win it at Monte Carlo? I cannot see that.

Way to go by Kei Nishikori, who bested Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-2. Nishikori really wants to play as much as he can, but he does get hurt a lot, so he has to be careful….

That is a great win by the Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, who blew out Diego D. Schwartzman 6-2 6-1 in the second round. He has an amazing backhand. … Canadian Milos Raonic is still in there despite nagging injuries. Hopefully, his arms are better, and he won’t think about how sore it is. He is a terrific player, but he doesn’t love clay. On grass and the hardcourts, sure, he can go very deep in the summer. But in the spring, he cannot win in the big events. Including Monte Carlo.