The top seeds on both the men�s and women�s sides of the draw are still in contention at the Italian Open in Rome, the last major clay-court tournament before the French Open begins on May 27.
While there are two other clay-court events next week � in Lyon and Geneva � both are 250-level events, meaning only a smattering of notable players will be appearing in those tournaments. Meanwhile, most of the world�s top players are in attendance for the Italian Open, with the top seeds on both sides having reached the quarterfinals.
Nadal Brushes Aside Shapovalov
In men�s play, Rafael Nadal is once again the top seed. The Spaniard suffered his first clay court loss in a year last week at the Madrid Open, when he was defeated by Dominic Thiem 7-5, 6-3 in the quarterfinals.
While that loss was undoubtedly disappointing for Nadal, it doesn�t seem to have slowed him down. Rafa had little trouble in a highly anticipated Round of 16 matchup with Canadian youngster Denis Shapovalov, winning 6-4, 6-1 to advance to the quarterfinals.
�He�s good in all aspects,� Nadal said after the match, praising his 19-year-old opponent. �The only thing he needs is a little bit more time.�
Nadal will now face off against Fabio Fognini, who has already made noise in this even by knocking off Thiem in the second round. The winner of the Nadal-Fognini match will take on either Ken Nishikori or Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
The other side of the draw is headlined by No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev. The 21-year-old German pro is establishing himself as one of the few people who might upset Nadal at the French Open, and is coming off a win in Madrid that should give him some momentum heading into Roland-Garros regardless of how he does in Rome.
Despite Zverev�s recent success, however, Nadal remains the overwhelming favorite this weekend. Nadal is a 3/10 favorite to win the Italian Open, ahead of Zverev (11/2), Djokovic (9/1) and Nishikori (18/1).
Sharapova Enjoys Practice Time with Rafa
The top seeds on the women�s side of the draw have also advanced to the final eight. No. 1 seed Simona Halep moved on to the quarterfinals after American Madison Keys withdrew with a rib injury, while No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki earned her spot after beating No. 15 seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-2, 5-7, 6-3.
Maria Sharapova has also grabbed much of the attention. The Russian has improved her form lately and is now in her second straight quarterfinal after beating Daria Gavrilova 6-3, 6-4. But Sharapova�s most nervous moment of the tournament may have come when she asked Nadal if she could hit some balls with him on the practice court � something she said she had to talk herself into doing.
�Let�s not get crazy. It�s not like you�re asking him to go on a date,� Sharapova joked with reporters. �You�re just asking him to hit a couple of balls with you. I was like, listen, you gotta hit a couple balls with Rafa on clay.�
Without a dominant presence like Nadal, the women�s draw is still considered wide open. Halep (5/2) is considered the favorite, but Elina Svitolina (7/2), Wozniacki (13/2) and Sharapova (13/2) are also in the mix, and none of the last eight are listed at worse than 12/1 odds.