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Men's Look Forward: Rome


Lleyton Hewitt may be taking this "I'll do it my way" business a little too far. Already, it's cost him the #1 ranking. This week, it just might cost him his chance to regain the top spot -- and it may hurt his Roland Garros chances, too.

Hewitt, of course, isn't the only big-name player skipping Rome. Tommy Haas is still out with injury, and so is Guillermo Canas, and Marcelo Rios is sulking, er, contemplating his future, and Pete Sampras is out with "I care enough to say I'm not retired, but I don't care enough to play." But Hewitt is the only player who would have been seeded who elected not to play. Even the guys who have been off with injuries are here: Sebastien Grosjean is finally expected to play, as is Guillermo Coria.

Which, of course, means an amazing field for this biggest clay event other than Roland Garros. How strong is Rome? So strong that Alex Corretja is unseeded. And Tommy Robredo, both of them Top 20. And Fernando Gonzalez. And Gaston Gaudio, who has seen his ranking plunge in recent weeks but who certainly has the clay skills to do damage. And there are plenty of dangerous clay floaters, too: Agustin Calleri, who has been red-hot this year. Juan Ignacio Chela. Felix Mantilla. Nikolay Davydenko, another guy who has been on fire.

This may well be the most fascinating event of the entire year, including the Slams, because it's clay and because there are only sixteen seeds. That creates matchups that would be rather less interesting on other surfaces, or that couldn't happen until at least the third round at Roland Garros. For example, Tim Henman and Guillermo Coria are supposed to meet in the first round. Both will be seeded at Paris. Similarly the first round contest between Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Younes El Aynaoui: Both would be seeded if there were 32 seeds. It's quite possible that Jarkko Nieminen will be seeded at the French Open, so his opener against Paradorn Srichaphan wouldn't come off. Certainly the first round match between Sebastien Grosjean and Tommy Robredo wouldn't happen. It's not likely that the winner of that could face Juan Ignacio Chela in the second round, either. Gustavo Kuerten wouldn't be in a situation where he has to face Gaston Gaudio in the first round, Agustin Calleri in the second, and Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third. And Ferrero wouldn't face Alex Corretja in the second round.

And then there are the fine first round matches that could take place even in Paris, but probably won't, and we know will happen here. Andre Agassi will be tested from the start in his title defence, since he'll face rising clay-courter David Ferrer. Xavier Malisse and Ivan Ljubicic will match their skills on a surface that doesn't really suit either man's game. #11 seed David Nalbandian will have to perform well in his opener against Felix Mantilla, and #3 seed Carlos Moya may well have his hands full with countryman Fernando Vicente. Max Mirnyi doesn't much like clay, but Nicolas Lapentti is in pretty sad shape right now, so that could be close.

That's probably enough gushing. Let's look at the seeds, and assess their chances for doing damage here.

#1 Andre Agassi is the defending champion. But the draw definitely isn't doing him favors. As mentioned above, he opens against Ferrer, after which he'll face Ljubicic or Malisse. Admittedly, that part of the draw isn't too bad (he could theoretically have opened against Corretja or Robredo or Gaudio, after all). But then it gets nasty. In the third round, he could face #15 Guillermo Coria. Coria is just coming back from a bit of an injury, but he'll have had two matches to get in form, and he was on fire earlier this season. If Agassi gets through that, he'll have to face either Roland Garros champion Albert Costa or Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian. Then, potentially, #3 seed Carlos Moya. It just gets worse and worse.

#2 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero is, on paper, the chief beneficiary of Hewitt's withdrawal, since it moved him up to the #2 seed. But it was rather a Greek Gift, since he is in probably the worst eighth of the entire draw. Apart from two qualifiers, it has Stefan Koubek (who can make anyone work on clay), Gaston Gaudio, Agustin Calleri, Alex Corretja -- and Gustavo Kuerten. Ferrero himself gets a break of sorts when he opens against a qualifier. But then comes Corretja (who, admittedly, is in crummy form right now), then Kuerten or whoever beats him. After that, it probably gets easier: Jiri Novak in the quarterfinal, and Roger Federer or Marat Safin in the semifinal. Though Safin beat Ferrero on clay a few weeks back....

#3 seed Carlos Moya is surely the #2 clay threat right now, but he too has it fairly tough. Fernando Vicente isn't at the top of the clay depth chart, but he usually stays right around #50 and he loves dirt and he comes to play; if Moya has any rust, his countryman will find it. The second round will pit Moya against the Lapentti/Mirnyi winner; given the way Lapentti has been playing, and the way Mirnyi feels on clay, that's not likely to be too tough. But then comes Younes El Aynaoui. Moya may be more comfortable in the quarterfinal, where he might face Andy Roddick. Then -- Agassi.

#4 seed Roger Federer, despite winning Hamburg last year and Munich this week, is probably the weakest of the top four on clay. But his draw rather makes up for that. He opens against Paul-Henri Mathieu, who has had most of his results indoors and who is still trying to get back on track. The second round, though, will pit Federer against a true clay-courter, either Mariano Zabaleta (who has cooled off a bit after a hot start this year) or David Sanchez. In the third round, the seed is Sebastien Grosjean, though Tommy Robredo and Juan Ignacio Chela are also in there. In the quarterfinal, he faces Marat Safin, then Ferrero.

#5 Andy Roddick is still looking for that first big title -- and, indeed, that first title on European clay. His draw may help. He opens against Andrea Gaudenzi, who likes clay but who is perhaps the weakest player in the entire field (he needed a wildcard to get in, of course). After that, it's the resurgent Vincent Spadea or a qualifier. Then, theoretically, #9 seed Paradorn Srichaphan -- though in fact we'd expect it to be anyone but Srichaphan: Jarkko Nieminen, Nikolay Davydenko, and Karol Kucera are the other possibilities. After that, Roddick would face Moya. Hardly a matchup Roddick can look forward to.

#6 Marat Safin also has one of the better draws. He opens against wildcard Filippo Volandri (though Volandri has done fairly well lately). After that, he'll face either clay-hating Jan-Michael Gambill or clay-hating Raemon Sluiter. And then he faces Sjeng Schalken, one of the weaker seeds on clay. Safin has a lot to defend in the next two months. This is a real chance to build up some cushion.

#7 Albert Costa is another guy with a relatively easy path to the Round of Sixteen, since he opens against a qualifier, then Arnaud Clement (who hasn't done especially well on clay in his career) or Davide Sanguinetti (who needed a wildcard to make the main draw). After that, things get much trickier as he faces Nalbandian, then Agassi.

#8 seed Jiri Novak likes clay, but he just hasn't seemed inspired this year. Fortunately for him, his opponents aren't likely to be all that inspired, either. He opens against Wayne Arthurs, who is better on clay than you'd think but hardly a top threat, then he'll face Dominik Hrbaty or a qualifier. The first seed he would face is #12 Rainer Schuettler, not a huge clay threat. Of course, next up is Ferrero....

We already hinted that #9 Paradorn Srichaphan was rather unlikely to come through. He's probably the weakest of all the seeds on clay, and he opens against Jarkko Nieminen, then Nikolay Davydenko or Karol Kucera. Then Andy Roddick. If he gets that far.

#10 Sjeng Schalken is a bit stronger on clay than Srichaphan (he's won a title on the stuff), but it isn't really his surface. Still, his draw is fairly nice: First a qualifier, then Radek Stepanek or James Blake (the latter being ranked higher, but the former being probably happier on clay). Of course, next up after that is Safin, which ought to be the end of the line.

#11 David Nalbandian is a genuine threat to do damage here -- but he's also a genuine threat to self-destruct. And his draw will give him several opportunities for the latter. He opens against Felix Mantilla, who is of course a very good clay-courter. After that, he'll go against either Mardy Fish or Fabrice Santoro -- neither one very accomplished on clay, but Santoro of course can drive anyone crazy anywhere. Then he'll face Costa. If Nalbandian can make it that far, he'll obviously be in pretty food form. Which means -- watch out.

#12 Rainer Schuettler has one great tool for clay: His speed and stamina. But he lacks the other half of a great clay game, which is that special something to trouble an opponent. As a result, he's rarely done especially well on clay; his best results have mostly been on hardcourts. It will be interesting to see if he can change that here. He has a better chance than usual; he opens against a qualifier. Then things get tougher: Feliciano Lopez, who likes clay and likes upsets, or Wayne Ferreira, then Jiri Novak.

#13 Sebastien Grosjean would probably be a significant threat if he'd had time for warmups. But he didn't. That appears to spell trouble -- especially since he opens against Tommy Robredo, who just missed a seed and who likes clay. And then he'll be up against Juan Ignacio Chela or Olivier Rochus. And then he hits Roger Federer. Not much hope for a big return there, it appears.

The very words seem ridiculous. "#14 seed Gustavo Kuerten." Seeded #14 on clay? But the rules are the rules. And those rules gave him a truly dreadful draw: First Gaston Gaudio, then Agustin Calleri or Stefan Koubek. Then Juan Carlos Ferrero (who beat him earlier this year). If Kuerten can come through that -- well, if he can, we'd be inclined to say he's all the way back.

#15 Guillermo Coria has missed the last few weeks with a hernia. There was some doubt about whether he could play Rome. We'll find out when he faces Tim Henman. Henman hasn't been playing well, but he's healthy; that just might be interesting. So might the next match, against Mikhail Youzhny. Then comes the big test: Andre Agassi.

#16 Younes El Aynaoui lost to Yevgeny Kafelnikov a few weeks back, but he was tired at the time. This week, Kafelnikov will be the tired one. On the other hand, he's in his best clay form in years. Whoever wins will clearly be favored against Brian Vahaly or an Italian wildcard. But then comes a match with Moya.

It's a tough draw to predict. Normally, we'd say that the top two contenders were Kuerten and Ferrero. But they are in the same part of the draw; at least one will go out early. And Ferrero has been playing too much, and comes in directly from Valencia. Andre Agassi has a chance, but his draw is tough. Carlos Moya may have the easiest draw of the top candidates -- but he has perhaps the weakest history. Andy Roddick still hasn't won a big one. Marat Safin is struggling. We don't like making predictions; it's a fool's game. But this time, we don't even have a personal prediction.

The Rankings. Andre Agassi is the defending champion, which means that the #1 ranking is very much on the line. Agassi comes in with exactly a 100 (entry) point lead on Lleyton Hewitt -- but with 500 points to defend. Hewitt, though, doesn't have much to defend -- second round points only. That means that Agassi must defend his title if he is to stay #1.

Things stay fairly interesting below the Top Two, also. Juan Carlos Ferrero is more than a thousand points behind Hewitt and Agassi -- but he lost second round at Rome last year, and first round at Hamburg. That makes it just barely possible that he could overtake Agassi -- or even Hewitt, if Ferrero wins both Rome and Hamburg. Though he also has to worry, at least a little, about Carlos Noya. Moya trails Ferrero by a few hundred points, and has quarterfinal points to defend (and second round points at Hamburg), but he just might be able to grab the #3 spot with a win here.

Below that, all is chaos. As of last week, #5 Roger Federer led Andy Roddick by 175 points, and has nothing to defend -- but of course he has Hamburg the week after that. Roddick has very little chance of passing Federer this week (since he has Rome semifinalist points), but might be able to do something at Hamburg. Marat Safin is more of a threat this week (since he has only second round points, giving him a real shot at Roddick's #6 ranking), but he has more to defend at Hamburg. It's going to be a wild two weeks.

Below the Top Ten, the biggest threat is of course Gustavo Kuerten. If he can reach the final, he might just get back to #10. A win would put him around #7.

Other than Agassi, the player in the most rankings danger is last year's finalist, Tommy Haas. From #19, he'll be falling out of the Top 30. Also under threat is last year's semifinalist Jiri Novak; an early loss would certainly drop him to #10 and might even cost him his Top Ten spot. But at least he's playing.
 

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If Agassi makes it out of the 1st round, why don't we just give him the title?
 

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Tennis Fool said:
If Agassi makes it out of the 1st round, why don't we just give him the title?
As I said, if he gets out of the first round;)

Agassi has early rd. concentration fits, a la Hingis.
 

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Ummm..... I agree with you about Paradorn

How tough match he is

Best of Luck to Paradorn Srichaphan
 

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Discussion Starter #6
even i'm a tough match for Paradorn on clay ;)
 

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Maybe Hewitt wants to do it in his own way, but i think its strange, when he say this is his best preparation for Roland Garros. To make a good result out there, he have to play matches first on clay, i wonder what his real reason is that he is skipping first Barcelona and than Rome...
 

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haha rebecca:)
 
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