Italian Open Monday Preview: The Men’s and Women’s Match of the Day
There are some big clashes in Rome as preparation for Roland Garros continues in the 'Eternal' city.
By Matthew Marolf
Coming out of last week in Madrid, there are many questions heading into this week in Rome. Can Rafael Nadal start up another winning streak and take his eighth Italian Open title? Will the big-hitting men and women who dominated in the altitude of Madrid be able to carry that success over to Rome? And can other top names who have struggled to gain momentum on the clay step up this week? With Roland Garros just two weeks ago, the answers to these questions will have a significant impact on the next Grand Slam event.
Osaka appears to be a future major champion in the making. Since her big breakthrough title in Indian Wells, and her subsequent victory over Serena Williams in Miami, Osaka’s results have understandably dipped a bit. That’s a lot for a 20-year- old take in. A very different story is unfolding on the other side of the net, as a two-time former major champion tries to make her comeback after the birth of her child, and the ensuing custody battle that kept her away from tennis. Azarenka impressively made the semi-finals in Miami, just her second tournament since last July. But Vika ran into a hot Karolina Pliskova in Madrid, though she pushed her all the way to 7-5 in the third. Azarenka easily her only previous meeting with Osaka at the 2016 Australian Open, but obviously both players are in much different places today. Based on Azarenka’s hunger and experience, and I give her the edge in this one.
The night session will be headlined by two of the most entertaining players on tour. But they can also be two of the most frustrating to watch, as their play doesn’t always live up to their supreme talents. Neither player has picked up many wins thus far on the European clay. Monfils is just 1-2 since returning from a back injury that kept him out for about a month. Fognini is on a three-match losing streak dating back to Monte Carlo. Both will be looking to get some wins ahead of the French Open. Their career head-to- head is fairly tight at 4-3 Monfils, with Gael winning their last two matches. They have played a few epic encounters previously on the clay of Roland Garros. Fognini prevailed 9-7 in the fifth in 2010, while Monfils got revenge in another five-setter in 2014. One would think playing in his home country would inspire Fognini, but logic doesn’t often apply to either of these men. Let’s hope they both up their level from recent weeks, and showcase the shot making, athleticism, and personality that has earned both of them so many fans.