Nishikori opts out of Rome

Kei Nishikori has withdrawn from this week's Rome Masters in a bid to get fit for the second Grand Slam event of the season which starts in 13 days.

The 24-year-old from Japan has just reached a career-high No 9 in the world following an excellent week in Madrid where he made it all the way to his first Masters final.

However, after winning the first set against Rafa Nadal, he was on the brink of enjoying the biggest title of his career when he led 4-2 in the second only to retire at 0-3 down in the decider - after needing treatment on court.

Nishikori, who now lives in Florida, left the arena with a sore lower back and has now decided to take a rest until the French Open begins at Roland Garros on May 25.

But despite missing out on Rome, he remains upbeat ahead of travelling to Paris: "It's going to be very exciting at the French because I've never felt like this on clay. I'm very confident of whatever I hit.

"I can hit from either side, so it's a very good feeling I have on clay right now.

"I've been playing better tennis than last year. I'm more offensive, aggressive."

Federer return

One man definitely taking part is Roger Federer who has never won in Rome -despite reaching three finals.

Last week Federer become the father of a second pair of twins and he will open his account at the Foro Italico against world No 47 Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.

The top seed is Nadal who is chasing an eighth triumph in Rome, with Novak Djokovic returning to action following injury to be at the other end of the draw.

Also playing, but not expected to lift the trophy on Sunday, is the No 7 seed Andy Murray who meets Spaniard Marcel Granollers in round two after being given a bye.

The world No 25's favourite surface is clay and he will probably go into his clash with Murray feeling he has a good chance of reaching the last 16.