Djokovic, Federer, Murray look for Rome boost

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The leading trio of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray all have work to do before the start of the French Open in a fortnight, with the Rome Masters the last tournament chance to whip their clay games into top condition.

Of the three leading seeds at the event, which begins on Sunday at the picturesque Foro Italico, only number three Murray lasted until the quarterfinals in Madrid last week.

Defending champion Federer was ambushed in the third round by Japan's Kei Nishikori, while Djokovic, the world's top player, exited a round earlier at the hands of Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.

Federer's strategy of taking seven weeks off to rest some physical niggles and train backfired as he went down to Nishikori in his second match back.

As a result, the Swiss remains the only player in the current top 10 not to have played a final this season.

He and Tomas Berdych, who put out Murray in Madrid, are the lone members of the elite without titles in 2013.

"I'm going to make sure I'm going to be as well prepared as I can be for Rome," said 17-time Grand Slam winner Federer before leaving Madrid.

"Clearly I have no choice but to hit the practice courts."

Federer has never lifted the trophy in Rome, where Rafael Nadal (six titles) and Djokovic (two) have hogged the honors for the last eight editions.

Djokovic confessed to ankle pain from his injury suffered last month in the Davis Cup.

Though he won Monte Carlo at the expense of Nadal, and then did not play for a fortnight, the Serb said his fitness still needs work.

"The only positive thing is that I didn't injure my ankle worse before Rome and Paris," he said.

Djokovic hopes to remedy his lack of Madrid preparation by the time he begins in the second round in Italy.

He can also look for more respect from sympathetic Italian fans than he got in Madrid, where he was jeered relentlessly by the Spaniards.

Murray may send an SOS to coach Ivan Lendl in the US for some extra clay tutoring after his Madrid loss, with the Scot heading to Rome in hopes of surpassing his 2011 semifinal, which he lost to Djokovic.

Murray expects no particular extra trouble from the back problems that traditionally arise for him on clay.

"I'm a bit sore at the beginning of the matches, and then once I warm up, I start to feel a little bit better."


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