Clearly, the momentum of skipping Madrid did not hurt Novak Djokovic. He rolled into Rome and -- voila! -- came away with another title.
While the Serb was the star of the weekend, more went down, as our tennis staff notes.
Hope to see you soon, Juan
Leonardo Ayala, ESPN Deportes: As the countdown to the French Open winds down with a qualifying tournament and Friday's draw for the main competition, South American tennis will once again miss the countryman who last took home a Grand Slam: Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina will likely be absent for the third year in succession. (It should become official when Roland Garros organizers announce the list of players with direct access to the main draw; but just like in 2013 and 2014, del Potro is set to miss the second Grand Slam of the year.)
Fellow countryman Leonardo Mayer and Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas will enter the draw as seeds, but even on a surface (clay) where they feel the most comfortable, making it into the second week should be a realistic goal for both. They are not title contenders as an in-form del Potro would be; he made it to the semifinals in 2009 and quarterfinals in 2012, only to lose both matches in five sets to Roger Federer. The Swiss would eventually move on to win the title in 2009, but Delpo took sweet revenge later that year by defeating Federer, also in five sets, in the US Open final.
A few months ago, del Potro anticipated he would use his protected ranking this year at Roland Garros. Almost a full year into his recovery from left wrist surgery, 2015 started slowly for del Potro. He pulled out of the Aussie Open at the last minute, instead booking a new appointment with a surgeon. Fast forward to Miami in March, when he lost in the first round but, even worse, felt pain again and decided to head back to Buenos Aires to rest and start from scratch.
The situation did not get any better in the past few weeks: Del Potro still feels pain while training, so a return to the slow courts of Paris, where points last longer than on faster surfaces, wouldn't have been a wise decision.
Mauresmo good for Murray's game
Tristan Barclay, ESPN UK: It has been almost a year since Andy Murray became the only leading male player to appoint a female head coach. His relationship with former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo is proving to be a fruitful one, as evidenced by Murray's back-to-back clay-court successes in Munich and Monte Carlo before he pulled out of Rome, citing fatigue.
Before Mauresmo, the British No. 1 was under the tutelage of an altogether sterner character, Ivan Lendl. Those were days of hard graft and competitiveness in the Murray camp. That style of management also brought with it a huge amount of success, capped by Murray's 2013 Wimbledon triumph, which ended British tennis fans' 77-year wait for a home champion.
A couple of years older, and with the no-nonsense Lendl gone, Murray has admitted to enjoying Mauresmo's more deliberative approach. He says he appreciates being able to "open up" to the Frenchwoman and says she listens to him better than the Czech ever did. That makes his French Open prospects good, but this summer will be a tricky one.
Murray expects Roland Garros to be the last tournament he will play with Mauresmo as his coach for some time. She is due to give birth in August, and her replacement in Team Murray will be Jonas Bjorkman. The Swede joined Murray's camp in the build-up to last month's Munich Open and is booked in through the US Open in September. His task will be to ensure a smooth transition from the Mauresmo method, to maintain the light-touch approach that allows Murray to focus on the practice court. Any deviation from that path could undo a year's worth of good work.
Squirrely state of the Bryan brothers
Carl Bialik, FiveThirtyEight.com:
The Bryan brothers could win their third French Open doubles title -- or they could lose in the first round. After an up-and-down start to the year for Bob and Mike, neither outcome in Paris would be surprising. The twins, who turned 37 last month, have won three titles this year, including Masters events in Miami and Monte Carlo.
Wherever they haven't lifted the trophy, though, they've struggled, losing in all seven other events by the quarterfinals, five times in straight sets. Their loss in Rome was their second straight opening-match, straight-sets loss. Doubles' sped-up scoring makes every match something of a crapshoot, but the Bryans have maintained their No. 1 ranking by remaining remarkably consistent despite no-ad points and third-set super-tiebreakers.
They lost before the semis just seven times last year, and only four times the year before. The Bryans nonetheless remain comfortably co-ranked at No. 1. But if they do lose early again in Paris, they could fall further behind in the race for year-end No. 1, behind the Italian duo of Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini, among the favorites at the French Open.
How are the Bryans responding to the slump? According to Twitter, they're training more on clay -- at, of all places, the All England Club.
Suarez-Navarro good for the game
Peter Bodo, ESPN.com: Carla Suarez Navarro did not win the Italian Open on Sunday. She took the first set from Maria Sharapova but slowly ran out of steam. Sharapova, who at 6-foot-2 is 10 inches taller than Suarez Navarro, asserted her superior strength and fitness and went on to claim the 35th WTA title of her career. That's 34 titles more than Suarez Navarro, the champion at Oeiras in 2014, has salted away.
Suarez Navarro is 0-3 in finals this year (she was also a finalist in Antwerp and Miami); but she has more tour-level wins than anyone else (31) and her ranking has risen to No. 8, thanks to this most recent final. Before the Italian Open, she was 0-9 against No. 1 or 2 players, but she broke that hex on Saturday with a gritty three-set win against Simona Halep.
Unfortunately, the win was costly. Suarez Navarro had to battle for 2½ hours to earn it, then bounce back the following day to meet one of the fiercest of competitors in the final. Suarez's chances began to fade as soon as she went a break down after winning that first set from Sharapova.
It's hard not to smile when you see that Suarez Navarro has won a match. She has perpetually slumped shoulders, a pigeon-toed gait, and then there are those outfits. (Someone should tell the Canary Islander that cool as it is to emulate Johnny Cash, black absorbs heat and thus many not be a good choice on hot days.) But she's got great timing, reflexes and all-around mobility -- along with wonderful touch and a terrific tennis IQ. She's worked her way up to a high level. Let's hope she has continued success -- and wins another title or two.
Missing: The real Rafa
Greg Garber, ESPN.com: That wasn't Rafa in Rome. It must have been an impostor who lost in straight sets against Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals. With his historic success on clay and a reservoir of confidence, the Nadal we know and love wouldn't have contrived to lose the first set -- after leading the tiebreaker 6-2.
That's right, Wawrinka survived four set points. And the real Rafael Nadal would never have made what sounded suspiciously like an excuse afterward. The "night ball is bigger," the man posing as Rafa said. "He has the chance to go for it."
Wawrinka, amazingly, was 1-12 against Nadal going into Rome. And then there was this: "I am ready to accept the challenge," Nadal supposedly said. "If go to Roland Garros [and] lose [and] I don't play well, life continues. It's not the end of the world. It's normal that I can lose. Losing is part of my life."
The (nearly) unstoppable Serb
Matt Wilansky, ESPN.com: Novak Djokovic is so unbeatable these days that the only player who has a shot at taking him down is Djokovic himself. That is the Djokovic of 2011.
The world's top player is having the finest season of anyone on the ATP Tour since he started 2011 at 37-0 with seven titles. This season, Djokovic is 35-2 with five titles.
The latest iteration of Djokovic is serving bigger (5.3 aces per match) compared to his rate four years ago (2.0), but he is down to 44 percent in converting break points. In 2011, he was successful on exactly half his break chances.
But it should be noted that Djokovic is riding a 37-match winning streak at the tour's highest-level events (Masters, Slams and the ATP World Tour Final) and is 14-1 in his past 15 matches versus top-10 players.
Djokovic, though, doesn't want to repeat 2011. He didn't lose a match until the semifinals of the French Open, the one Slam he has yet to win.
After winning Rome, Djokovic told reporters, "I have been very close to that title before, played several finals. I just need to continue preparing myself for that event as I prepare for any other, try to keep the routine going and hope it will take me where I want to be."