Commentary

Can Djokovic, Nadal exact revenge?

Updated: May 13, 2012, 7:12 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

Hear that sound? It's Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic exhaling after seeing red clay in Rome.

But here's a thought: Notice how the ladies didn't kick up as much of a fuss in Madrid as the men?

Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer, the winner in Madrid, and a returning Andy Murray are in the Rome field, and Rafa -- who lost his No. 2 ranking to Federer -- has a potentially nasty opener.

Here's a breakdown of the draw at the last big tournament prior to Roland Garros:

First quarter: Djokovic and the Argentines

The likeable Juan Monaco was in the finest stretch of his career. He reached the semifinals in Miami, upsetting two Americans who usually prosper at home (Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick). Back on the surface he's more comfortable on, clay, Monaco downed another American in the Houston final, John Isner. He was on his way to the top 10.

But Monaco proceeded to hurt his ankle in Monte Carlo, the second time an ankle injury surfaced during a purple patch. With early reports suggesting he'd miss the French Open, it's nice to see him back.

However, it'll take Monaco time to rediscover his good form. If he gets to the third round and a probable encounter with Djokovic, call it job done.

The Argentine who figures to give Djokovic more trouble is Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals. Del Potro won in Estoril and was a semifinalist in Madrid. Slower than Madrid, though, conditions in Rome would favor Djokovic.

Watching Bernard Tomic is always a treat, and the Aussie is potentially Djokovic's first opponent. Clay is his weakest surface, so we wouldn't expect Djokovic to falter.

Prediction: Djokovic

Second quarter: Smooth for Federer

[+] EnlargeRoger Federer
Javier Soriano/AFP/GettyImagesCan Roger Federer complete the Madrid-Rome clay-court double?

How many times has it happened? A high seed wins a close match very early in a tournament and subsequently goes deep. Federer stood on the brink of defeat against Milos Raonic in his Madrid opener but pulled it out, giving us a further example of his battling qualities.

Federer's first match in Rome after a bye should be somewhat easier, even if his likely foe, Carlos Berlocq, is a clay-court specialist who is having the most productive campaign of his career.

If Gael Monfils had a little more tennis in him, he'd have much to offer in a potential dual with Federer in the third round, yet the Frenchman only came back from a six-week layoff (abdominal injury) in Madrid and got crunched by Tomas Berdych in less than an hour. Monfils' goal, surely, is to be in tip-top shape for the French Open.

Assessing Isner's recent results, let's make one thing clear: His past two losses have come against solid opposition, including in Madrid (Marin Cilic). But Isner must win those types of matches to be a top-10 regular.

Isner meets Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round, which won't be easy, and would potentially confront home hope Andreas Seppi, a winner in Belgrade, and either Stanislas Wawrinka or Janko Tipsarevic in the two ensuing rounds.

He'll do well, then, to set up a clay rematch against Federer.

Prediction: Federer

Third quarter: Murray's rocky path

In hindsight, it wasn't so bad for Murray to skip Madrid with a back injury. He was out of the firing line.

But Murray's section in Rome is particularly difficult, so the Scot will have to work hard to achieve a maiden clay-court semifinal this season. Murray almost certainly tangles with David Nalbandian in the second round, and even if Murray has won the past six sets against Nalbandian, none has been on clay.

Should he progress, Murray might get Estoril finalist Richard Gasquet, and further ahead, David Ferrer or a resurgent Fernando Verdasco.

Ferrer against Verdasco, if it happens, is one of the second-round matches to look out for. (Verdasco against Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first round isn't so bad, eh?)

The man Murray would no doubt prefer to face in a potential quarterfinal is Gilles Simon.

American Donald Young, not able to keep his 2011 form up, drew Simon in the first round, which most likely means a continuation of his woes.

Prediction: Ferrer

Fourth quarter: No Rafa-Raonic

Nadal wouldn't have wanted to play Raonic in a second-rounder.

Raonic's progress was there for all to see against Federer in Madrid. Of course, he served great, but he's made significant strides on the backhand and is a more complete player.

Well, Rafa's task in Rome was made easier after Raonic lost to Florian Mayer in the first round Sunday. Raonic presented more danger than Mayer, but the German shouldn't be completely discounted. He beat Nadal last fall in Shanghai.

One of the men of the moment, Tomas Berdych, is Nadal's quarterfinal opponent if the seedings hold. Before then, it could be Berdych-Nicolas Almagro, Part III in 2012. (No handshake in Melbourne, handshake in Indian Wells.)

Almagro, though, is susceptible to a first-round upset. He might still be thinking about the three match points he held against Ferrer -- who he was 0-9 against -- in Madrid, and the improving Cilic is his challenger.

Prediction: Nadal

Semifinals: Federer def. Djokovic; Nadal def. Ferrer

Winner: Nadal

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.