With the conclusion of the Rome Masters, tennis fans begin to prepare themselves for the year’s second Grand Slam. With Roland Garros right around the corner, two new names have thrown themselves into the mix with magnificent performances in Rome.
Daniil Medvedev and Elena Rybakina are the respective Rome Masters Champions for the first time. The victory for each represents their first titles on clay and puts their names right into the mix for the title at Roland Garros.
Medvedev holds off Rune
It wasn’t long ago that Daniil Medvedev spoke very openly about his hatred for clay courts, claiming that he hated “everything about the surface.”
It is not uncommon for a player to have a favoured surface, but Medvedev’s hatred of clay seemed personal, to the extent that he publicly stated that he believed he would never win a tournament on the surface.
You never would’ve guessed that by the way he performed in both his semi-final against Tsitsipas and the final against Holger Rune.
Despite Rune being 7th seed and Medvedev being 3rd, the young Dane would’ve been favourite for the final, having shown remarkable potential on clay.
But Medvedev seemed to have better adapted his game to clay, producing strong shots off both sides to frustrate the young Rune in the early stages of the match. After Rune played a poor drop shot, Medvedev gained the only break of set one to take it 7-5.
Both players traded breaks at the start of set two, but it seemed as if Rune was in the ascendency when he got the second break of the set and led 5-3.
Despite some fantastic hitting off the forehand, Medvedev’s consistency remained an issue for Rune, and he conceded four consecutive games to lose the second set and the match.
The win represented Medvedev’s sixth Masters 1000 title, and his first on clay. It also propels him to world number two, ahead of Novak Djokovic, meaning that he will be the second seed at the upcoming French Open.
A very Open French Open
The men’s 2023 Rome Masters Final was the first final in Rome since 2004 where Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have not been involved. With the news that Nadal will miss Roland Garros this year, we could be heading into the most open Roland Garros in history.
Carlos Alcaraz looked to have a choke-hold on clay this year when he won in Barcelona and Madrid, but a shock exit in the second round in Rome to Fabian Marozsan, proves that he is far from invincible on the surface.
With his victory in Rome, Medvedev has demonstrated that he is more than capable of performing on the surface and could represent a shift in his clay court fortunes (having only made it past the first round twice at Roland Garros).
Medvedev will throw his name into the ring, along with Alcaraz, Djokovic, Rune, Rublev, Tsitsipas and 2022 finalist Casper Ruud.
With a whole host of names hoping to be champion, it promises to be a very exciting French Open.
Rybakina continues her impressive rise
With the last two WTA tournaments being contested between Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka, the talk amongst many was that an exciting rivalry was brewing between the two players.
But over the last week in Rome, another player, who has shown remarkable form over the last year, has highlighted that this rivalry may go three ways.
Elena Rybakina announced herself to the tennis world when she won Wimbledon last summer. Since then, she has made the final of this year’s Australian Open (losing to Sabalenka), won Indian Wells, and has now added the Rome Masters to her impressive resume.
Rybakina’s road to the final saw her face-off against some of the best clay court players in women’s tennis. Some may argue that she got slightly fortunate against Swiatek in the quarter finals, when the world number one had to withdraw due to injury with the scores reading one set a piece.
But in the semi-finals against 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, Rybakina showed her prowess to beat Ostapenko in straight sets.
Her opponent for the final was Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina, who got off to a good start, breaking Rybakina in the first game of the match.
However, Rybakina slowly started to wear down Kalinina, with huge hitting from the baseline giving her the break back.
At 5-4 on serve, Rybakina again started to apply the pressure with immense hitting off both sides to give her set point. At the second time of asking, Rybakina got the break and with it the set to put her within a set of the title.
However, the win would come much sooner for Rybakina as Kalinina succumbed to a foot injury at the start of set two, leading to her retirement, and Rybakina being crowned champion.
Roland Garros Awaits
Having announced that the injury that saw her retire against Rybakina is not serious, Swiatek will be the likely favourite for Roland Garros when it begins in around a week.
But with the recent wins for Sabalenka and Rybakina, it looks like this Roland Garros, on both the men’s and women’s sides, will be one to remember.
More names to look out for at Wimbledon
Medvedev and Rybakina have both shown fine form on this year’s pro circuits.
Following Roland Garros, attention will shift to the grass court season and players will begin to look towards Wimbledon.
Rybakina will be one of the star attractions when she attempts to retain her title, and Medvedev will be desperate to make a splash in his first Wimbledon since Russian and Belarusian players were banned from the tournament.
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