by Craig Hickman
(1) FEDERER, Roger SUI v BYE
ALMAGRO, Nicolas ESP v HENMAN, Tim GBR
(WC) VOLANDRI, Filippo ITA v (Q) Gabashvili, Teimuraz RUS
VERDASCO, Fernando ESP v (13) GASQUET, Richard FRA
I predicted after the Monte-Carlo final that Raja and Rafa wouldn't contest another clay-court final this season. Since I fully expect Rafa to get to the championship match that would mean Raja won't get there. However, no one on this entire half of the draw can dismiss him except for two players in this section and one them never has. Therefore, I'll give Richie the strongest chance, but he must survive Fernando Verdasco, who had Richie dead to rights in Monte-Carlo before folding like a quilt in late spring. And after little Richie's abysmal performance in the Estoril final, well. Of course, Federer is the favorite to get out of this tricky little section, but if he shows up in that deliciously ornery mood from Monte-Carlo, he's no gimme. And then there's this new issue of Federer's hip locking in practice. A (psychosomatic) injury brewing? Go, Richie Red Shoes. Yeah. Right. Look out for Nicolas Almagro.
(12) BERDYCH, Tomas CZE v NIEMINEN, Jarkko FIN
WAWRINKA, Stanislas SUI v (Q)Albert Montanes ESP
ACASUSO, Jose ARG v VERKERK, Martin NED
BYE v (8) LJUBICIC, Ivan CRO
Yawn. Of late, Berdych's game on clay seems to be congealing. He ought to get out of here to face the mystery man (I know, I know, but I must be consistent with my post-Monte-Carlo prediction!) in Raja's section. But look out for the qualifer Albert Montanes of Spain.
(3) RODDICK, Andy USA v BYE
GAUDIO, Gaston ARG v FISH, Mardy USA
CHELA, Juan Ignacio ARG v GICQUEL, Marc FRA
ANDREEV, Igor RUS v (14) FERRER, David ESP
The winner of Andreev and Ferrer will take this section. Gaudio is a wasteland; Roddick is back from injury and even if healthy, I'd give Chela, Gicuel, Andreev and Ferrer the edge over him at this event. On the other hand, Andy has surprised here before. He either plays with nothing to lose and gets out of this section or crashes out in the second round to a Gaudio who, despite his recent woes, simply refuses to lose to an American in Rome on clay. Look out for Marc Gicquel.
(9) BLAKE, James USA v MONFILS, Gael FRA
(Q)Massu, Nicolas ARG v BOLELLI, Simone ITA
BJORKMAN, Jonas SWE v TURSUNOV, Dmitry RUS
BYE v (6) GONZALEZ, Fernando CHI
IF Monfils wants it, really wants it, he takes this section and gives himself a strong chance to defend his semifinal from last year. But Blake may remember Paris, may remember that he had Monfils and let it slip away. And this is best-of-three, which has to give Blake some confidence. Whatever happens, the winner of this match advances to the quarterfinals. Look out for qualifier Nicolas Massu.
(7) ROBREDO, Tommy ESP v BYE
HEWITT, Lleyton AUS v (Q)Hernandez, Oscar ESP
MELZER, Jurgen AUT v (Q)Canas, Guillermo ARG
SIMON, Gilles FRA v (10) MURRAY, Andy GBR
When I first saw this section, before qualifying was complete, I wrote: "Another yawn. Tommy BOREdo, Lleyton Hewitt, Jurgen Melzer, Gilles Simon and Andy Murray do nothing for me. Not as players or personalities. You pick 'em. I just don't care. I'll paste in the top-seed's picture just because." But then Canas was put here and I smiled. If anyone deserves and easy draw... well, let's watch him take this section with one hand tied behind his back. Okay. Okay. But some hyperbole every now and then is all right, no?
(16) FERRERO, Juan Carlos ESP v HRBATY, Dominik SVK
(WC) STARACE, Potito ITA v CALLERI, Agustin ARG
(Q)Delic, Amer USA v SAFIN, Marat RUS
BYE v (4) DAVYDENKO, Nikolay RUS
Potito Starace possesses one of the most beautiful games on the terre battue. But a resurgent Agustin Calleri, if healthy, will take him out. Safin is done. The faster conditions in Roma may help him, but I just don't think he wants it. And qualifier Amer Delic won't be pushed around. Marat's compatriot and top-ranked Russian Davydenko is injured (and sufficiently silly to be playing with the injury), so Safin will top him, but I think Juan Carlos Ferrero takes this section rather easily.
(5) DJOKOVIC, Novak SRB v BYE
BECKER, Benjamin GER v SODERLING, Robin SWE
BAGHDATIS, Marcos CYP v MOYA, Carlos ESP
STEPANEK, Radek CZE v (11) HAAS, Tommy GER
The Djoke will get out of this section unless he has to play a hot Robin Soderling or a serious Carlos Moya. And I mean hot & serious. Haas was a 2002 finalist at this event, but what has he done for me lately? The Djoke will get out of this section. Ho hum. Look out for 2002 finalist Tommy Haas.
(15) YOUZHNY, Mikhail RUS v BENNETEAU, Julien FRA
ROCHUS, Olivier BEL v (Q)Llodra, Michael FRA
GINEPRI, Robby USA v BRACCIALI, Daniele ITA
BYE v (2) NADAL, Rafael ESP
If a clay-court draw can be difficult for the reinging King of Clay, well, I guess this is it. And then I woke up. Youznhy may challenge Rafa if the Russian gets to him and if he isn't exhausted from Munich, but no one else stands a chance. None whatsoever.