Popcorn Matches: Four clashes you won’t want to miss in the Rome Masters first round
Saturday’s draw at the Rome Masters has delivered some mouth-watering first-round clashes before the top eight seeds enter the fray.
Tennishead looks at the ‘popcorn matches’ from the first round:
Denis Shapovalov (13) vs Casper Ruud
This contest is arguably the best in terms of quality, with World No 14 Denis Shapovalov taking on Norwegian star Casper Ruud.
The pair come into Rome with contrasting form. Ruud has made three consecutive semi-finals in Monte-Carlo, Munich and Madrid and has also reached the semi-final of the last three Masters 1000 events on the clay surface.
Shapovalov on the other hand, has struggled to find any form on the clay surface, winning just two matches across three tournaments, both of which were against lower ranked opponents (Jeremy Chardy, Dusan Lajovic).
The contrasting forms is evident in the ATP Race to Turin, with Ruud 26 places higher than Shapovalov who is placed 37.
Jannik Sinner vs Ugo Humbert
Jannik Sinner will be keen to set up a second round clash with nine-time Italian Open champion Rafael Nadal, but first he must navigate Ugo Humbert.
The young Italian, who impressed at Roland Garros last year before losing to Nadal in the quarter-finals, has continued his clay form in 2021, though suffered a disappointing defeat to Alexei Popyrin in Madrid.
Humbert, who had a breakthrough year last year after winning titles in Antwerp and Auckland, has struggled to replicate his form this term and has won just one match on clay against Marco Cecchinato.
The only meeting between the pair was in 2019 at the ATP NextGen finals, with Humbert getting the better of the young Italian.
Hubert Hurkacz (15) vs Lorenzo Musetti (WC)
Lorenzo Musetti has had a phenomenal year on tour so far and will relish the opportunity to play on his favourite surface in front of his home crowd.
However, the 19-year-old has struggled on the clay of late, losing most recently to Spaniard Carlos Taberner in Madrid qualifying last week.
Hurkacz on the other hand, has played just three matches on the clay all year, which will certainly play into the Italian’s hands in the first ever meeting between the pair.
Kei Nishikori vs Fabio Fognini
Two former top 10 stars Nishikori and Fognini will meet in the first-round of the Rome Masters in their fourth career meeting and their first since 2017.
Nishikori has had some good moments on the clay so far this year, beating Cristian Garin and Guido Pella in Barcelona before taking a set off Rafael Nadal in the round of 16.
Fognini on the other hand, started the clay season impressively to reach the quarter-final in Monte Carlo, though has ultimately struggled ever since.
The Italian was defaulted against Zapata Miralles in Barcelona before losing to compatriot Matteo Berrettini in Madrid last time out.
In their last clay meeting five years ago, the Japanese star took the deciding set 7-5 in the Madrid Open second round before reaching the semi-finals.
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