Roger Federer Needs Strong Italian Open in Preparation for French Open

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2013

ROME, ITALY - MAY 14:  Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a forehand against Potito Starace of Italy in their second round match during day three of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2013 at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre on May 14, 2013 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It was hard to blame Roger Federer for being rusty enough to lose in the third round of the Madrid Open to Kei Nishikori, 4-6, 6-1, 2-6. He came into the tournament on the heels of a two-month hiatus from the sport, after all.

But now, with the French Open less than a week away, Federer must round himself into his elite form of old. That means all eyes will be on him at this week's Italian Open.

Thus far, it has been business as usual for Federer, who dismantled Potito Starace 6-1, 6-2 in the second round. He'll have a tough test in Gilles Simon in the third round, but an in-form Federer should have no trouble advancing past the Frenchman. 

For what it's worth, Novak Djokovic also struggled in Madrid, losing to Grigor Dimitrov in the second round. And to his credit, Federer seemed downright sick with himself after losing to Nishikori (via Kamakshi Tandon of ESPN):

I'm pretty disappointed with my play. I'm not sure how well Kei thought he played. I didn't think he had to play his very best, either, which is even more disappointing. 

We're so accustomed to always finding that rhythm eventually, so it's even more disappointing if you never really find it, which was the case today.

I'm going to go back to the practice court, train hard, and make sure I don't have these kind of days anymore.

Generally, that means very bad things for Federer's peers. 

But this year, it may not matter how well Federer plays at the Italian Open, or French Open, or any other Open, for that matter. Rafael Nadal will go to Roland Garros scorching hot, having already won five singles titles on the year and currently boasting a 31-2 record.

The 2013 season could end up being very Nadal-centric.

And seeing as Rafa has won this tournament seven times (in the past eight years, to boot), he'll once again be the prohibitive favorite. All roads go through Nadal at Roland Garros. 

But Federer did end Nadal's streak of wins in 2009 with a French Open title, and with Andy Murray unlikely to play in the tournament, Federer could avoid a top-four opponent until the final depending on the draw.

We should have a pretty good idea of how Federer will fare at Roland Garros based on his play at the Italian Open. If he advances deep into the tournament, he should once again be considered one of the favorites.

But if he struggles or loses another third-round match, it's hard to imagine Federer making a deep run at the French Open. 

If tennis fans have learned anything, it is not to doubt Federer. But he is only human, and taking two months off from the game may have left him with more rust than his 31-year-old body can shake off before the French Open. 


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