Italian Open Tennis 2013: Dark-Horse Contenders to Watch for in 3rd Round
The clay-court season is reaching its climax as the 2013 French Open is just over a week away.
Players like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are in Rome this week for the Italian Open, making one last effort to fine tune their games and prepare themselves for the season's second Grand Slam in Roland Garros, which many consider to be the most grueling of the four majors.
While it's no secret that those three superstars are heavy favorites to raise the crown in Rome on Sunday, there are a handful of dark-horse contenders tennis fans should be on the lookout for heading into Thursday's third-round action.
Let's take a look.
Kevin Anderson, a big, 6'8" South African took out Jurgen Melzer easily in the first round and then knocked off the 11th-seeded Marin Cilic in the second round thanks to a spectacular performance in the second set tiebreaker.
Anderson won an incredible 75 percent of his first-serve points against Cilic, recording 13 aces and saving all six of Cilic's break-point chances in the straight-set victory.
The 26-year-old will face off against sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych in the third round on Thursday, who he lost a hard-fought third-round match to in Madrid last week.
But despite Berdych's high ranking, he's certainly beatable on clay. Before making a deep run to the semifinals in Madrid last week, Berdych bowed out in the third round of the Barcelona Open and Monte Carlo in April.
If Anderson, who finished as runner-up on the clay at the Grand Prix Hassan II in Morocco last month, can continue to put powerful first serves into the box, there's no reason to believe he can't upend Berdych and potentially set up a quarterfinal clash with top-seeded Novak Djokovic on Friday.
Frenchman Jeremy Chardy lucked out as Andy Murray was forced to retire in the second round at the Italian Open on Wednesday, setting up a third-round matchup with doubles star Marcel Granollers instead.
Chardy has taken three of four singles matches against Granollers, and beat him in the two players' only clay court meeting back in 2008.
The 26-year-old Chardy was phenomenal in his second-round win over 16th-seeded Kei Nishikori, winning 75 percent of his first-serve points, recording six aces and dropping just five games in the straight-set thrashing.
If Chardy can get past Granollers on Thursday, then he'll take on the winner of Juan Martin del Potro vs. Benoit Paire in the quarterfinals on Friday. Remember, Chardy upset Delpo in the third round of the 2013 Australian Open last January to reach his first ever quarterfinal at a Grand Slam.
Jerzy Janowicz, the 22-year-old Polish player, is playing with a ton of confidence in Rome this May. After stunning eighth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round on Wednesday, the 6'8" Janowicz will battle ninth-seeded Richard Gasquet on Thursday.
Which dark-horse would you bet on to make the deepest run in Rome?
Gasquet has looked vulnerable recently, however. He was upset in the second round at the Madrid Open last week and was upended by unseeded Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo last month.
If Janowicz can get past Gasquet on the Italian clay on Thursday, there's a good chance second-seeded Roger Federer would be waiting for him in the quarterfinals on Friday.
After reaching the third round of the Australian Open last January and beating Tsonga on Wednesday, confidence won't be an issue for Janowicz in the third round in Rome. He's serving well and definitely making enough plays in the return game to play his way into the weekend at the Italian Open.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
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