Claycourt tennis is back, with the Italian Open 2020 beginning on Monday, 14 September. The ATP Masters 1000 event will start just a day after a new men's singles Grand Slam champion is crowned at the US Open, so there's not much time to breathe.
It comes as little surprise that both US Open finalists Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev have already withdrawn from the Rome Masters. The two young stars will take a week's rest before they start practicing on clay.
But that doesn't mean the tournament is devoid of major attractions. The historic event will mark the return of King of Clay Rafael Nadal, who will be playing his first tournament since Acapulco in February.
The nine-time champion would hope to add more glory in the Italian capital and complete a set of at least 10 titles each at all four big events in the European clay-court season. Rafael Nadal getting back to winning ways on his beloved clay could well be the only semblance of 'normalcy' we have in 2020.
Novak Djokovic made headlines at the US Open for all wrong reasons, getting defaulted in his fourth round match for accidentally hitting a line judge with the ball. The Serb would be eager for redemption in Rome, looking to add a fifth title at the Foro Italico to kick-start his claycourt campaign.
Most of the players in the draw are making a quick transition from the hardcourts of the United States to claycourts of Europe, while many others have played only a couple of matches on the surface this year. That could potentially cause mayhem in the draw, and we might see a few unexpected upsets early on.
With the cancellation of the Madrid Masters, Rome is the only major preparation tournament on clay for most top players heading into the French Open. On that note, here's a look at how the men's draw is likely to unfold at the 2020 Rome Masters:
Top half: Novak Djokovic could face Stan Wawrinka
Expected semifinal: Novak Djokovic vs Matteo Berrettini
Player to watch out for: Filip Krajinovic
Analysis: Novak Djokovic finds himself in a loaded section of the draw at the Rome Masters.
The Serb begins his campaign against either a qualifier or clay-court specialist Salvatore Caruso in the second round. But Djokovic's path gets tricky in the Round of 16, where he could face Kyle Kyle Edmund or one of the in-form players Filip Krajinovic and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
It is pertinent to note that Edmund had taken the first set from Djokovic in their recent meeting at the US Open, and has beaten the Serb in their only previous meeting on clay - back at Madrid 2018.
The blockbuster match of the tournament is expected at the quarterfinal stage, as Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are tipped to reignite their rivalry. But we don't have to wait that long for a clash between two big names as Wawrinka has to first overcome returning Japanese star Kei Nishikori in the second round.
If both Wawrinka and Nishikori fail to make the last eight, Djokovic could face Gael Monfils or Alex de Minaur for a place in the last four.
The bottom quarter of the top half seems fairly less complicated, where home favorite Matteo Berrettini is the highest seed. The Italian has a huge forehand and had reached the Round of 32 here last year, but he isn't considered among the best players on clay.
That makes sixth seed David Goffin the favorite to emerge as the winner of this quarter and face Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Goffin could face Marin Cilic and Karen Khachanov in his opening two matches, but considering his claycourt record and the form of his opponents, the Belgian shouldn't have much trouble reaching the last eight.
Goffin's biggest challenge before the semis could be in the quarterfinals against Borna Coric or Cristian Garin. The in-form German Jan-Lennard Struff could be an outside pick to reach the quarterfinals and face David Goffin.
Semifinal prediction: Novak Djokovic vs David Goffin
Bottom half: Rafael Nadal in a stacked draw
Performance bye: Pablo Carreno Busta (since he reached the US Open semis)
Expected semifinal: Rafael Nadal vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
Player to watch out for: Jannik Sinner
Analysis: Rafael Nadal will start his claycourt campaign against the red-hot Pablo Carreno Busta in the second round.
Carreno Busta is bursting with confidence after another unexpected semifinal showing at the US Open. The result has earned the Spaniard a special bye in the opening round, reserved for semifinalists at the US Open, despite being unseeded.
But the bye might be the only relief the Rome draw brings for Carreno Busta, as he has never beaten Rafael Nadal on clay. In fact, Carreno Busta has never even taken a set in his three claycourt meetings against the 19-time Slam champion.
Nadal's path to the last eight could further involve Milos Raonic in the Round of 16. In the quarterfinals, the nine-time champion might face one of Andrey Rublev, Hubert Hurkacz and Diego Schwartzman.
Nadal and Schwartzman have a rather interesting rivalry on clay. The Argentine gave his friend a mini-scare during their last meeting on the surface, at the 2018 French Open.
Another interesting early match in this quarter could be Andrey Rublev vs Dan Evans. The two players have already met thrice this year, with Evans edging the young Russian in their last two matches.
The other quarter of the bottom half is spearheaded by last year's semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Greek No. 3 seed would be desperate for redemption after his shocking defeat at the US Open where he blew multiple leads (and match points). But his path isn't easy at all, with the winner of Jannik Sinner vs Benoit Paire awaiting him in the second round.
In the Round of 16, Tsitsipas could face 2014 semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov.
This quarter also features seventh seed Fabio Fognini, whose comeback match in Kitzbuhel last only 55 minutes. The Italian has failed to win a single match since the Australian Open, and is looking to revive his season after an ankle surgery.
Semifinal prediction: Rafael Nadal vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
Prediction for the final
Novak Djokovic vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
Novak DjokovicPublished 13 Sep 2020, 01:22 IST