Novak Djokovic returns to clay-court action after a three-week break, hoping to put the final touches on his impeccable game with a fourth title at the Italian Open.
Despite starting 2015 by winning a fifth Australian Open and then taking the first three Masters 1000 titles of the season at Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo, the Serb knew that taking time away to recharge was his best season strategy.
“I need at least a week of good rest, it’s been a long couple months for me,” he said before the break. “It has been very successful and I cannot complain.
“But I played a lot of matches, travelled a lot with Davis Cup, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, and now getting into clay that is a totally different surface,” added Djokovic, who turns 28 the week before the start of the French Open at Roland Garros.
“I’m healthy, obviously very confident. Everything is going in the right direction,” continued the Serb, winner in Rome in 2008 and 2011 as well as last year.
The same cannot be said for second seed Roger Federer, who made a late decision to play after losing in the second round in Madrid to Australian Nick Kyrgios three days after winning a third title of 2015 in Istanbul.
Rome has been a career minefield for Federer, who has never won the title at the Foro Italico.
Federer, like the other top eight seeds, has a first-round bye in the 56-man field and will start against either Pablo Cuevas or Italian wildcard Paolo Lorenzi. Djokovic will wait for the winner from Luca Vanni and Nicolas Almagro.
Britain’s Andy Murray, winner of his first career title on clay in Munich, takes the third seeding and starts against either Jeremy Chardy or one of his Munich victims, Lukas Rosol.
Seven-time champion Rafael Nadal is seeded fourth as Spain’s king of clay fights his way back into shape with the start of Roland Garros looming in a fortnight.
Rounding out the top eight are Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka, who has won just four matches since claiming the Rotterdam title more than two months ago.
– Looking for improvement –
Meanwhile, the top three women’s seeds are all looking for quick improvement after surprise Madrid results.
Number one seed Serena Williams lost her first match of the season after winning 27 in a row going back to last year’s WTA finals when she went out in the Spanish semi-finals to Petra Kvitova.
In addition, second seed Simona Halep exited in her opening match and holder Maria Sharapova was outplayed by Svetlana Kuznetsova in their semi-final.
“We have another tournament ahead of us next week which will also be an important part of the preparation,” said Roland Garros champion Sharapova. “Every match I can get at this stage before a Grand Slam is important.”
Caroline Wozniacki takes the fifth seeding with Canadian Eugenie Bouchard sixth, Ana Ivanovic seventh and Russian Ekaterina Makarova eighth.
World number nine Agnieszka Radwanska will not play due to a hand injury and Andrea Petkovic is missing after quitting in Madrid due to illness.
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1)
Roger Federer (SUI x2)
Andy Murray (GBR x3)
Rafael Nadal (ESP x4)
Kei Nishikori (JPN x5)
Tomas Berdych (CZE x6)
David Ferrer (ESP x7)
Stan Wawrinka (SUI x8)
Marin Cilic (CRO x9)
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x10)
Feliciano Lopez (ESP x11)
Gilles Simon (FRA x12)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA x13)
Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP x14)
Kevin Anderson (RSA x15)
John Isner (USA x16)
Serena Williams (USA x1)
Simona Halep (ROM x2)
Maria Sharapova (RUS x3)
Petra Kvitova (CZE x4)
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x5)
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN x6)
Ana Ivanovic (SRB x7)
Ekaterina Makarova (RUS x8)
Angelique Kerber (GER x9)
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP x10)
Karolina Pliskova (CZE x11)
Lucie Safarova (CZE x12)
Sara Errani (ITA x13)
Venus Williams (USA x14)
Madison Keys (USA x15)
Jelena Jankovic (SRB x16)