Breaking Down Rafael Nadal's Path to the Rome Masters Semifinals

Tim KeeneyContributor IMay 15, 2013

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 12:  Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates with with volunteers after winning his final match against Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland on day nine of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica  on May 12, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal's first-round bye might just serve as his most difficult competition at the this year's Rome Masters. 

That's an obviously facetious statement, of course, but with the Spaniard looking more like his pre-injury self with each new match, it might not be far off. 

He strolled to another Masters 1000 title at the Mutua Madrid Open last week. In five dominant wins, he was broken just nine total times and lost just one set.

In his final preparation for the French Open at the end of this month, it's difficult to imagine the King of Clay doing anything but continuing that momentum.

Let's take a look at who stands in his way at Foro Italico.


Second Round: Fabio Fognini

This is an intriguing opening match for Nadal.

The 25-year-old Fognini, who will be on his home soil in Italy, is unquestionably at his best on clay. He is just 16-19 overall in majors, but an impressive 8-4 at Roland Garros. As you'll recall, he made it all the way to quarters there in 2011 before bowing out with a muscle tear

Still, while there is impressive potential for the world No. 25, his play has been quite underwhelming as of late.

He fell to Pablo Carreno-Busta in the second round of the Portugal Open and gave up two sets in a row to lose to Mikhail Youzhny at Madrid. 

Nadal won't have trouble in his first career matchup with Fognini, but he can't ask for better preparation from an opening match. 


Third Round: Viktor Troicki or Ernests Gulbis

For now, we'll assume that Troicki, who has had more recent success, will find a way past the qualifier. 

Should that happen—well, no matter what happens there, actually—Nadal is in for a cakewalk. 

Troicki, the world No. 42, made it to the second round in Madrid before losing in straight sets to Kei Nishikori. On Monday, he needed three sets to get past Lukas Rosol in the opening round at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. 

He has one tour win in his career, which came on the hard court at the Kremlin Cup in 2010, and has decent success on clay, going 7-5 in his career in the French Open. 

The Serb was ranked as high as No. 12 in 2011, but he has done very little in the past that suggests he'll threaten to even win a set against Nadal, who he is 0-4 against in his career. 


Quarters: David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Albert Ramos or Philipp Kohlschreiber

You have to believe Nadal will be meeting Ferrer here, although the other fellow Spaniard, Verdasco, played quite well at Madrid. 

Nadal vs. Ferrer, of course, would be a rematch of the Madrid quarters last week, which saw Rafa get past his countryman in three sets. After splitting the first two sets, the eventual champ showed off his brilliance by tossing a bagel on his opponent in the deciding set. 

While this matchup serves as an intriguing Spain vs. Spain battle between the World No. 4 and 5, you can expect last week's result to be as close as it will get. 

In the last 15 meetings between these two on clay, Rafa has won every single one, dropping just three sets in the process.

Still, when you're getting a top five matchup in the quarterfinals between a historically-dominant clay player and a very-accomplished clay player, it's tough to complain.