Roger Federer has added Rome to his schedule with hope for a better outcome than he had in Madrid. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Roger Federer has added Rome to his schedule with hope for a better outcome than he had in Madrid. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)|Associated Press

Tennis Sunday: Abrams previews the Internazionali BNL d’Italia -- aka Rome -- and picks 3 main draw matches; including Bautista Agut v Seppi

Matches start at 5 am EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Internazionali BNL d’Italia
Rome, Italy
Sunday, May 12, 2019

As the Madrid Open winds down with the Men’s Final featuring top-ranked Novak Djokovic squaring off against 9th ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas, the next big tournament is set to begin today in Rome, Italy. Known now as the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, the players and media simply refer to this giant event as “Rome”, where the winner takes home 958,055 Euros, and first round losers ease their pain by cashing their 18,955 Euros paycheck.

The Women’s draw is packed, as usual, and features four of the Top Five players, plus yesterday’s Madrid Women’s winner Kiki Bertens, seeded 6th, as well as American Serena Williams, seeded 10th, Belgian Caroline Wozniacki, seeded 11th, and streaky Yank, Madison Keys, seeded 13th. The draw is crafted so that in the top half, world No. 1 Naomi Osaka sits at the top of the heap, but her path to the finals is blocked by Bertens, Williams, Simona Halep, and Sloane Stephens -- if Osaka is going to make a run here in Rome she better bring her big-hitting game. The bottom half of the draw has 2nd seeded Petra Kvitova residing in the half that has Elina Svitolina, Ash Barty, Karolina Pliskova, Anett Kontaveit, Caroline Wozniacki, and Madison Keys. So no matter who gets to the finals, she’ll have to play at the top of her game.

The Men’s draw is equally strong, although the bottom eight seeds are o inconsistent that I think we can count on some quick upsets to add a little spice to the tournament. As the top seed, Novak Djokovic sits atop the draw, as he is used to being. In his path are Kei Nishikori, Marin Cilic, Gael Monfils, Sascha Zverev, Juan Martin del Potro, Stan Wawrinka, Nick Kyrgios, Daniil Medvedev, Alex de Minaur, Denis Shapovalov, and others, as there are men who can beat everybody on a given day. The second seed here in Rome is Rafa Nadal. In his half of the draw are Nikoloz Basilashvili, Karen Khachanov, Roberto Bautista Agut, Dominic Thiem, Roger Federer, Frances Tiafoe, Fabio Fognini, Jo-Willie Tsonga, and Stefanos Tsitsipas. If any of the top seeds don’t focus from start to finish, they stand the real risk of getting zapped by a player who we might not have heard of but who can rise to the occasion. One thing you can be sure of—this will happen!

Although the first round begins today, the last round of the qualies has to be played both in the men’s and the women’s draw. For that reason, they haven’t scheduled any women’s first round matches for today, and very few men’s first rounders. But of the few, there are some goodies which look particularly interesting:

Marton Fucsovics over Nikoloz Basilashvili
Right off the bat I’m picking this upset. It’s not that Basilashvili is playing poorly, or that I think he’s not ready for the slow clay of Rome. It’s because Basilashvili (No. 17) and Fucsovics (No. 36) have played each other five times that I know of, and Fucsovics has won four of them. Fucsovics has won on both indoor and outdoor hard courts, and clay, which pretty much covers all of the surfaces, except grass. When they played on grass in the third round of Wimbledon’s qualifying in 2015, Basilashvili won in four. This match will be on red clay. Give it to the man from Hungary.

Philipp Kohlschreiber over Gilles Simon
These guys are around the same age and grew up in neighboring countries, so they have probably played way more times, including Juniors, than the ATP has reported. The Tour says that this will be the tenth meeting between the two, and that Simon, the talented Frenchman, has a 5-4 lead over the German head-to-head. Simon is as streaky as they come, and he has not impressed me this year. Kohlschreiber, on the other hand, has been solid as a rock in 2019, and he is strong, tough, and predictable. I like the German for those reasons. Simon is so unpredictable that I find it hard to believe that he could be as earnest as he would need to be to win this match.

Roberto Bautista Agut over Andreas Seppi
Roberto Bautista Agut is definitely the favorite in this match. The Spaniard holds a 2-0 lifetime edge over the Italian in head-to-head encounters, but RBA is also ranked No. 21 and is 17-6 in 2019 so far. Seppi, on the other hand is ranked No. 67 and is just 11-11 in match play this year. I see RBA rolling over Seppi.

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