ROME -- An hour before Monday’s first ball, the early arriving patrons are politely queuing at the front gate of Foro Italico -- there’s none of the frenetic energy, the pushing and shoving, that marked the chaotic weekend. At least, not yet.

On the practice courts, Zheng Qinwen has already sweated through her top and Felix Auger-Aliassime struggles to return serves as several dozen spectators watch and talk quietly amongst themselves. Stadio Pietrangeli, the sunken, statue-surrounded venue that has become one of the tour's most iconic spots, was patiently waiting for patrons. 

Time was when the best day in tennis, in terms of quality and quantity, was the middle Monday at Wimbledon. Because the All England Club took an old-school sabbatical on Sunday, all eight Round of 16 matches on the men’s and women’s sides were played on a single day.

All that dazzling star power in a single, incandescent burst.

That format went away two years ago, when Wimbledon adopted the typical Grand Slam format that splits the Round of 16 matches across two days, one for the top-half of the draw, the other for bottom-half.

But now, with more WTA 1000 events moving to the two-week format with larger draws, Marvelous Monday was back with a vengeance at the Internazionali BNL D’Italia.

An admittedly erratic, highly subjective accounting:

Depth of field

All of the Top 3 seeds made it to the second week here: No.1 Iga Swiatek, No.2 Aryna Sabalenka and No.3 Gauff. If you timed it right (and had the foresight to purchase the appropriate tickets), you could have watched all three of them play. In addition, No.5 Maria Sakkari, No.7 Zheng and No.9 Jelena Ostapenko were all in action.

Perhaps the best measure of depth was the credentials of some of the unseeded players -- Naomi Osaka (a four-time Grand Slam singles champion), Angelique Kerber (a three-time major titlist) and former World No.2 Paula Badosa. Kerber, ranked No.331, was the lowest-ranked player to ever make the fourth round in Rome.

They were joined by some genuine surprises, No.161 Irina-Camelia Begu and No.120 Rebecca Sramkova, the only qualifier to reach the fourth round.

Out to lunch

Tomasz Wiktorowski sits on the sunny patio outside player dining, casually preparing the weapons of the World No.1.

Almost unconsciously -- he’s holding an extended conversation -- the coach winds the white overgrip smoothly around the handle of Swiatek’s Tecnifibre T-Fight 300. It takes a few minutes, and then he does it again -- and again. These are the three rackets that Swiatek will take into her ultimately successful match against Kerber.

Top seed Swiatek ousts former No.1 Kerber to make Rome quarterfinals

Player dining is the true nerve center of a tournament.

Italians Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini peruse the many options -- there’s sushi and Chinese dumplings, a custom pasta station, no fewer than 13 fresh salad choices and a grilling station -- before opting for the Pesce de Giorno, Ombrina, a sort of sea bass. Tommy Paul goes with a plate loaded with pasta and chicken.

Also seen: Zheng after her big win over Osaka, David Witt, the coach of Sakkari, chair umpire Marija Cicak, preparing for the Gauff-Badosa match. Oh, and a truly scrumptious-looking display of gelato. Perhaps not in that order of importance.

They doth protest (too much)

Professional tennis operates in a sphere distinctly apart from the real world, but on Monday, that calm is interrupted as protesters briefly disrupted two matches, including one between Madison Keys and Sorana Cirstea. 

With Keys up a set and 3-1 on Pietrangeli, a confetti-throwing man in an orange vest takes the court. The two players meet at net and exchange a few words, while the protestor is led away and the mess was cleaned up. The same thing happens a little later during a doubles match on Court 12 and, according to officials, a third protest targeting the Grandstand was circumvented.

“Honestly, when I saw them come over the barrier my first thought was should I go tackle them?” Keys said later. “I stopped myself. The chair [umpire] started yelling at me to sit down.

“I just tried to get off the court and regroup.”

After a nearly one-hour delay, Keys goes on to win the match 6-2, 6-1.

Keys routs Cirstea, returns to first Rome quarterfinal since 2016

The disruptions echoed a similar episode at last year’s Wimbledon tournament that was staged to bring attention to climate-change issues.

“Unfortunately, it’s become a little bit of a common thing that’s happening,” Keys said. “It’s not the greatest feeling when you’re on the court. Your first reaction is for your own safety. Tournaments are going to have to figure out how to stop it.”

Lost in translation?

Right out of the box, Stadio Centrale features two wizards of Down Under, Osaka -- a two-time Australian Open champion -- and Zheng, a finalist earlier this year. They both hit the ball sooo hard, but it doesn’t always translate on clay.

Osaka is trying to win four straight matches on clay for the first time in her career, while Zheng is eyeing a second consecutive trip to the quarterfinals here. It is Zheng who comes through decisively, 6-2, 6-4.

“I think I’m happy with my performance in Rome,” Osaka said afterward. “It’s been a while since I played well on -- I guess I’ve never played well on clay, so I guess I’m happy.”

Osaka is now 25-24 for her career on clay and has to feel good heading to Roland Garros.

Moving targets

At the outset of matches, chair umpires typically ask the crowd to sit down quickly and respect the players, but here in Rome it’s a futile effort. Inevitably, there is a certain lack of decorum on the part of Italian fans. They seem more than happy to be part of the drama.

Dan Istitene/Getty Images

People are constantly walking in players’ fields of vision, sometimes entire groups leisurely seek their seats. Even the vendors, intent on sales, stroll with enormous containers of cold drinks and ice cream.

Swiatek was asked about the emerging pattern of her ability to focus late in sets.

“Honestly,” she said, “I’m trying to be focused from the beginning to the end one hundred percent. Sometimes it’s not easy with the crowd, so much going on on court.”

It’s all part of the ever-shifting landscape in Rome.

Stadio Pietrangeli delivers (again)

The shadows are lengthening across the Italian Open’s official No.3 court. It’s dangerously close to cocktail hour -- or maybe it’s already in play. The 3,500 coveted general admission seats are all taken and a ring of spectators presses around the top, some five to six deep.

This is the good stuff.

Silvia Lore/Getty Images

The tension is almost unbearable as Sramkova, the Slovakian qualifier, playing the most important match of her life, pushes 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko to her absolute limit. 

Tournament organizers have developed a knack for putting some extraordinary three-set matches on this extraordinary court. And this wacky 2-hour, 46-minute match fits nicely into that rich history.

Sramkova actually serves for the match at 5-4 in the third set but Ostapenko breaks her -- at love. When Ostapenko throws up a few aborted service tosses, some fans whistle -- and she glares at them.

Serving at 5-6, Sramkova saves a match point and forces a tiebreaker. The singing that breaks out sounds like a soccer game. The final frame features eight mini-breaks of serve but Ostapenko is steadier and prevails 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3).

And then, as though none of that whistling and singing happened, there's Ostapenko gleefully taking selfies with any fan who wants one. That's the wonder of this miracle of a tournament. Despite the controlled chaos and distractions, it's all smiles and delight at the end of another marvelous day.