ATP Rome: Internazionali BNL d'Italia preview

16 of the world's top 20 players venture to Rome for the final major stop on the Road to Roland Garros as the top starts look to hone their clay court preparation at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Defending champion Novak Djokovic, seven-time winner Rafael Nadal, and 17-time major champion Roger Federer headline a jam-packed field at the third and final ATP Masters 1000 on clay. 

ATP Rome tournament overview

The century old city of Rome plays host to the final ATP Masters 1000 event on clay, with the top players traveling to the Italian capital for the second most prestigious clay court tournament in the world. The Internazionali BNL D'Italia is Italy's only tournament and one of the finest in the world. Held on the picturesque red clay courts of the Foro Italico, the Italian Open has played host to the world's best clay court gladiators for 86 years. All-time great clay court players have won in the Eternal City, including seven-time champion Rafael Nadal and four-time winner Novak Djokovic. 

First quarter

The top quarter is headlined by the two players who have held the past 11 Italian Open titles, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Djokovic, a four time champion in Rome, has a bye in the opening round, before a second round meeting against a qualifier. The defending champion could face flashy Frenchmen Gael Monfils in the third round or powerful Brazilian lefty Thomaz Bellucci.

The most successful player in Internazionali BNL D'Italia history, Rafael Nadal, opens against either German Philipp Kohlschreiber or a qualifier. In the third round, the Spaniard could face a big server, either in Milos Raonic or young Aussie Nick Kyrgios. If both Djokovic and Nadal can make it past their respective opening round matches, the past 11 Italian Open titles could face in a rematch of the 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2014 finals in the Eternal City. With both players in scintillating form and feeling quite comfortable on the red clay of Rome, it is sure to be a battle royale, and expect the King of Clay to win through to another Rome semifinal.

Semifinalist: Nadal 

Rafael Nadal bites his seventh Internazionali BNL D'Italia trophy in Rome/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal bites his seventh Internazionali BNL D'Italia trophy in Rome/Getty Images

Second quarter

The second quarter is lead by 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and sixth seed Kei Nishikori. Federer, who has never won in Rome, one of three ATP Masters 1000s he has never won, faces an extremely difficult opener against two young guns, either German Alexander Zverev or Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov. If the third seed is able to fend off the challenge of either Zverev or Dimitrov, the Swiss could then face another next generation star, Austrian Dominic Thiem. Much like Federer and Dimitrov, Thiem posses a lethal one handed backhand, something that often draws comparisons between Dimitrov and Thiem to Federer and Wawrinka respectively. 

On the other side of this section, Japanese star Kei Nishikori also faces a potentially tricky opening match against either big hitting Russian Teymuraz Gabashvilli or Viktor Troicki. In the third round, the world number six could face Frenchmen Richard Gasqet in a re-match of their third round matchup last week in Madrid, which the Japanese won in straight sets. While Nishikori should be able to make it through to the last eight, Federer faces an extremely difficult draw and with recent back problems added on to it, expect and early loss from the Swiss and for the sixth seed Nishikori to capitalize on it.

Semifinalist: Nishikori 

Kei Nishikori strikes a backhand at the Internazionali BNL D'Italia in Rome/Getty Images
Kei Nishikori strikes a backhand at the Internazionali BNL D'Italia in Rome/Getty Images

Third quarter

The third quarter is headlined by last year's semifinalist and defending French Open champion Stan Wawrinka and big-hitting Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Wawrinka has a bye in the first round, before opening against either entertaining Frenchmen Benoit Paire or another volatile player, Bernard Tomic. In the third round, Wawrinka could face big-serving South African Kevin Anderson, who made his return from injury last week in Madrid. 

For Tsonga, the Frenchmen opens up against another big-server, Ivo Karlovic, or a qualifier. The seventh seed could face either home hero Fabio Fognini or Spaniard David Ferrer. With a section full of big-hitting, inconsistent players, this quarter will definitely be one to watch, and very hard to predict as well. With Wawrinka's poor form of late and Tsonga's recent resurgence in the past 12 months, expect Tsonga to be the only player to steady the ship, and for his big game to send him through to the last four.

Semifinalist: Tsonga 

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga blasts a forehand at the 2014 Internazionali BNL D'Italia in Rome/Getty Images
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga blasts a forehand at the 2014 Internazionali BNL D'Italia in Rome/Getty Images

Fourth quarter

The fourth and final section is lead by second seed Andy Murray and eighth seed Tomas Berdych. Murray opens against either a qualifier or young Croatian Borna Coric. In the third round, the Brit could face Spanish clay court specialist Roberto Bautista Agut or home hope Paolo Lorenzi. For Berdych, the Czech opens against either Albert Ramos Vinolas or American Sam Querrey. In the round of sixteen, the former Wimbledon finalist could face the red hot David Goffin or another American in Jack Sock. Though Murray and Berdych both have fairly routine roads to the quarterfinals, the Brit has an overwhelming head to head against the eighth seed. Expect Murray to cruise through to his third straight semifinal.

Semifinalist: Murray 

Andy Murray hits a forehand at the Internazionali BNL D'Italia in Rome/Getty Images
Andy Murray hits a forehand at the Internazionali BNL D'Italia in Rome/Getty Images

Predictions: 

Semifinals: Nadal def. Tsonga, Murray def. Nishikori

Final: Nadal def. Murray

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