Probably the most interesting matchup at this year’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia happened not on court but in the press room as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal gave very different and very telling interviews on how they are looking forward to this year’s event. While Federer heaped praise on Nadal and said that the Spaniard was still “number one on clay”, Federer also joked with reporters and gave updates on how his new twins change how he selects hotel rooms now.
But once Federer left and Nadal entered the room, the sunshine, so to speak, was gone covered over by clouds and a moody chill given off by the winner of Monte Carlo last week. After reporters asked Nadal what he thought of his chances in Rome, he first treated them to a long blank stare and then answered, “It only starts today, I only arrived yesterday. It’s a very difficult tournament and the best in the world are here so it’s impossible to say.”
Nadal’s lack of enthusiasm in his press conference is not surprising considering he knows that Rome is really the first test to see if he really can win the French Open again. Although he’s the heavy favorite, he’s definitely carrying the weight of expectation that Federer did last year when the Swiss star had to endure questions of why he couldn’t win Paris. With that monkey off of Federer’s back, Federer knows that all eyes will be on Nadal which will allow him to just swing away and fine tune his game.
Nadal’s moodiness may also have to do with the fact that his draw is not easy. He may have to face Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals and then meet Federer in the semifinals. Facing Federer before the finals could be a likely scenario for awhile as Nadal still trails Novak Djokovic ranking-wise. Nadal will want to beat Federer on clay to show everyone who’s boss, but will he still have something left mentally and even physically when it gets to the final? If nothing else, the lingering buzzkill of not having a Federer/Nadal final for everyone involved could be the tipping point for the “other” man on the side of the net.
Speaking of the other men, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have found themselves on the opposite side of the draw, giving them both a chance to figure out their games and maybe even their heads a little bit. Though Murray may still lose early, Djokovic probably has a good chance to grind his way into the semifinals so long as his serve doesn’t become a liability. Djokovic could face Barcelona winner Fernando Verdasco in the quarters, but if Verdasco has enough gas left to get there remains to be seen. On Murray’s side, watch for David Ferrer to sneak into another semifinal again.
The question at the end of the day is which Nadal will show up on court. The confident, smiling Nadal who ate up the clay in Monte Carlo or a somber, determined Nadal who knows all eyes will be on him especially if he plays Federer. Probably somewhere in-between. If Nadal can balance his moods, he should prevail in Rome but if the clouds hang around too long for the Spaniard, don’t be surprised if Federer ends up being the “contento vincitore” come Sunday.