Italian Open Tennis 2013: Biggest Storylines to Watch for in Men's Semifinals

Dan TalintyreSenior Analyst IIMay 18, 2013

ROME, ITALY - MAY 17:  Roger Federer of Switzerland in action during his quarter final match against Jerzy Janowicz of Poland on day six of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2013 at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre  on May 17, 2013 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Just in case there wasn't enough drama this year, the men's tournament at the Italian Open is serving up plenty more intriguing storylines to watch for.

With the 2013 French Open just a week and a bit away, all the big-name players made their way to Rome this week for the warm-up event.

And then came the drama.

Andy Murray's injury withdrawal and Novak Djokovic losing to Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals—despite serving for the match at one point—were two of the biggest talking points to emerge this week.

However, those aren't the only storylines going on at the Italian Open at the moment. There are several huge stories still prevalent heading into the men's semifinals.

Read on to see the biggest storylines to watch for in Rome this weekend.



Can Tomas Berdych Knock Out Another Tennis Giant?

Big-serving Tomas Berdych might not seem the best suited to the clay-court surface, but with a huge win over Djokovic in the quarterfinals, he finds himself just one win away from the final of the Italian Open.

Only problem is that win will have to come against Rafael Nadal.

Berdych hasn't been incredibly dominant on clay this season, but has always hung in there. That was shown most clearly against Djokovic, who served for the match in the second set, yet came undone thanks to the strong returning game of Berdych.

He does have somewhat of an advantage against Nadal's top spin given his height (6'5"), but it's certainly no easy task to defeat the Spaniard on clay.

Berdych's big serve should hold him in good stead against Nadal, and could well make a strong challenge here—providing he holds himself well in the first set.

He also has a great ground game that forces his opponents to make big shots. Whilst Nadal is still more than capable of doing that, he's also capable of missing some big shots, as we saw in his clay-court loss to Djokovic earlier in the season.

It would be arguably the biggest win of his career, but Berdych could actually come close to knocking off the clay-court maestro on his favorite surface in this one.

That's not to say that he will, per se, but he'll definitely come close.



How Important Is This Match for Roger Federer?

On paper, Roger Federer taking on Benoit Paire might not seem like a big match, but that really couldn't be further from the truth for the Swiss international.

As much as he won't admit it, Federer is under a lot of pressure at the moment and has struggled to adjust to the clay-court surface in 2013. He's made just two semifinals all year and hasn't won either of them. And his one game on clay saw him trounced by Japanese international, Kei Nishikori.

Federer's had a relatively easy run to the semifinals thus far, but given the pressure he's under, Paire will be a tough matchup.

Especially since Paire can actually play.

Ranked No. 36 in the world, Paire has had a strong Italian Open so far. He has beat some very good clay-court players in Juan Monaco, Julien Benneteau, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marcel Granollers, with the latter being demolished 6-1, 6-0 by Paire.

He'll no doubt be full of confidence here against Federer and will be looking to go for big shots. turning this into a make-it-or-break-it type of match.

That isn't ideal for Federer, but he needs to win these type of games if he's to be a legitimate contender at the French Open. He hasn't shown any real clay-court prowess this year, and making his first final of the year would be a good way to show his Grand Slam intent in 2013.



Will Rafael Nadal Be Beat on Clay?

It's the same old question that seems to arise whenever Nadal plays on red clay. But the fact is that since his return, the Spaniard has again looked unbeatable.

His loss to Djokovic in the final at Monaco shows he is (technically) beatable, but few would claim his form is struggling. After all, he has won all but two games he's played on clay this year in his return from injury and has knocked out several of the surface's best players in the process.

He's knocked off an in-form Stanislas Wawrinka, a talented Nicolas Almagro and the Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He's also beaten David Ferrer three times.

There is little disputing Nadal's clay-court dominance, and anyone who isn't yet convinced needs only to take a look at his glittering career to be shown otherwise.

So, is there any chance for Berdych in this one?

Well, perhaps. In Nadal's first tournament back from injury, he lost on red clay to world No. 73 Horacio Zeballos. That loss was obviously ruled out as an anomaly and not an issue since he was coming back for the first time in seven months.

But it's worth noting in that game the success that Zeballos had on his forehand against the Nadal forehand.

Zeballos is a left-hander, and he was able to attack on Nadal's attacking shots across court as a result of that. This is something that the right-handed Federer, Djokovic and Ferrer simply can't do on their backhands, as good as they might be. Berdych is also a righty, but his backhand is extremely good, meaning he's a big risk to Nadal. 

 Nadal did win in straight sets, but at 6-4, 7-5, it was a very close fixture indeed. And most importantly, it was Berdych's backhand that kept him in the match. Thus, while it'll no doubt be tough for the Czech Republic international to beat Nadal here, Berdych will know exactly what he's up against.

Yet even still, it's very hard to see Nadal losing on red clay. And that goes for both the Italian Open and the 2013 French Open in two weeks time.

Hit me up on Twitter for more sports goodness: