Ernests Gulbis may be waiting until the last moment to ponder his long odds of somehow upsetting top-seed Roger Federer after booking his place opposite the Swiss with a 6-2, 6-2 defeat of former Grand Slam finalist Marcos Baghdatis at the Rome Masters.
Federer, a two-time Rome finalist without a title at the Foro Italico, beat Gulbis in January at their only other meeting, the quarterfinals in Doha.
“You don’t need to think about it,” said 40th-ranked Gulbis, perhaps already in denial over his huge upcoming test on the clay.
“Thinking about it doesn’t make it better at all.
“If you can throw away your thoughts about then you are going to be a happy man.” German Philipp Kohlschreiber will face another of the toughest tasks in tennis, taking on Rafael Nadal in the Spanish seed’s opener at mid-week after defeating Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay, 6-7 (1-7), 6-1, 6-4.
The Gulbis victory overturned a perfect 4-0 mark, which Baghdatis had held going into the battle between players who each won a trophy during this season.
The Latvian advanced in 69 minutes with six aces, breaking four times while saving the lone break point that he faced off the racket of the Cypriot who played the 2006 Australian Open final against Federer.
February spring standout Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain went down as the first seeded upset victim of the week at the Foro Italico, losing the first seven games in a 6-0, 6-3 loss to Colombian Santiago Giraldo.
American 14th seed John Isner found his clay-court legs in his first match of the European campaign on the surface, working for more than two and a half hours to overcome Argentine Horacio Zeballos 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5.
Frenchman Julian Benneteau prevented a double by American seeds as he fought past Isner’s good friend and number 15 Sam Querrey, earning a 7-6 (8-6) 3-6, 7-6 (7-2) win.
Two Italians took opening day wins, as Paolo Lorenzi moved through over Spain’s Alberto Montanes 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 and Potito Starace put put Czech Jan Hajek 6-2, 6-2.