For the second consecutive year, Novak Djokovic has announced that he will not be competing in the Madrid Open next week. Having won the first three masters tournaments of the year, Djokovic has decided to skip the fourth one to rest ahead of the French Open, the only Grand Slam to have eluded him so far.
The current world number one is an impressive 5000 points ahead of the rest of the field in terms of ATP rankings and so, having earned an exemption, he certainly does not need to compete in Madrid.
Had Djokovic been prepared to take part in this Masters tournament, he would have been heavy favourite given his spectacular form at the start of this season. But given his absence, tennis fans could be treated to the most competitive draw for a Masters tournament we have seen in a long time.
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The King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, is suffering from a lack of confidence in his game. Andy Murray has played well but faltered at crucial points in tournaments. Roger Federer has never really enjoyed the clay surface, despite occasional success.
Meanwhile, the new young guns are becoming increasingly threatening and nipping at the top players’ heels. So who exactly is equipped to take this Masters title and give themselves a boost up the rankings?
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Rafael Nadal’s match record so far this season is 19-7, the worst record he has had in a very long time. Despite still being the reigning King of Clay, the nine-time French Open champion has already lost three times on clay this season, most recently to Fabio Fognini in Barcelona where he is a former champion.
Whilst many have speculated that he is still recovering from injury, Nadal has repeatedly told the press that he has lost confidence in his ability to hit the ball accurately. However, Nadal is still the King of Clay and is adamant that his bad luck will disappear soon.
With his main rival absent, Madrid could be the perfect time for Nadal to regain his formidable form on clay and gather some crucial momentum ahead of his favourite grand slam at the end of May. As defending champion, the Spaniard should be considered one of the favourites in Madrid but it’s difficult to predict which Nadal will turn up.
If Roger Federer had any weaknesses, one would definitely be the clay surface. The slow gameplay and high bounce does not compliment his style and it is difficult for him to keep points short, instead forcing him out of his comfort zone.
He hasn’t won a tournament on clay since 2012 and has enjoyed little success on the surface compared to hard court and grass. Having said that, he is still a former French Open champion and has proven that he can compete with the best on the surface.
Federer is currently competing in Istanbul and has clinched his 200th win on clay by winning his opening match. If the current world number two can take his 11th clay court title, the confidence could carry him far in next week’s Masters tournament.
Andy Murray has had a relatively good start to the season. He is sitting at 21-5 and is through to the quarterfinals of ATP Munich in his efforts to warm up for the next two Masters tournaments ahead of him. He is by far the strongest player in the event and so should take the trophy with relative ease.
That is as long as he doesn’t have his characteristic loss of form at crucial moments in the important matches. Since the start of 2015, Murray has been bagled by Djokovic in two finals. Admittedly, clay is not his surface either.
He has never won a title or even made a final but he is clearly trying to change that here in Munich and if he wins, it should set him up well for Madrid given that the man who has repeatedly thwarted him this year is absent from the event.
He is a Roland Garros semi-finalist so has proven he can adapt to the clay courts sufficiently. Will he focus himself in order to compete with the best next week or will he suffer another embarrassing knock-out?
Kei Nishikori is coming into Madrid off the back of successfully defending his title at Barcelona last week. Although, he never faced a player ranked higher than him on his route to the title, he demonstrated that he is more than comfortable on clay. He has also proven that he can go deep in Grand Slams, having knocked out top seeds and made the final at last year’s US Open.
At last year’s Madrid Masters, he had Nadal on the ropes after taking the first set before a hip injury forced him to retire. But now that he is healthier and stronger than ever, he is looking in a great position to really make a mark and take his first Masters 1000 title when the event gets underway on Monday.
Two players that can never be overlooked in the important events are David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych. Possibly two of the unluckiest losers in tennis, they both consistently share the biggest stages with the top players but rarely succeed in overcoming them when it really matters.
Having only won one Masters 1000 tournament each, neither would be considered favourite in Madrid next week. But both have strong records so far this season with 27-5 and 27-7 respectively.
They would be a tough opponent for anybody drawn against them when the event kicks off. In the past three Masters events, both Ferrer and Berdych have been knocked out by either Djokovic, Murray, Nadal or Federer but both players have also beaten these top four on numerous occasions.
With Djokovic absent, it could carve an easier route to the business end of the tournament and all it would take would be to catch one of the remaining top seeds off guard and there could most definitely be an upset.
Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov have both made a substantial impact on the tour in the past few years. Raonic currently finds himself at a career high ranking of sixtth whilst Dimitrov is loitering at 11th and Raonic especially could trouble his fellow players in Madrid as he has already beaten Nadal in a Masters this year. Dimitrov has the game to really test his opponents having beaten the likes of Murray, Berdych and Ferrer before.
He actually has a 3-1 lead in a head-to-head with Raonic but has lacked the Canadian’s consistency to climb the rankings in a similar fashion. Neither are likely to win the title in Madrid next week but look for them to make waves in the latter stages of the tournament.
Stan Wawrinka is not having a great start to the season. In the past three Masters events, he has lost to Robin Haase in three sets, ranked 104, Adrian Mannarino in a tight two set battle, ranked 32 and then Grigor Dimitrov quite comfortable swept him aside in Monte Carlo last month. The Swiss is obviously struggling with his form at the moment and, unless he’s managed to work some magic in the past couple of weeks, will probably not go far in Madrid.
Similarly, current US Open champ Marin Cilic has failed to repeat the form and stamina he demonstrated in New York last September and is holding a losing match record for this season with 2-3.
Keep your eye out for the likes of Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Fabio Fognini and Feliciano Lopez who have all been known to exact shocking victories over top seeds before. Tsonga and Fognini especially do well on clay and Fognini has beaten Nadal twice already this year.
It’s going to be an interesting week of top tennis and although it was not certain that he would win, Djokovic’s absence has made the draw that bit more unpredictable.
Although he has passed up the opportunity to be the only player in history to win the first four Masters tournaments of the season, he will return for the next Masters event, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, which follows immediately after Madrid.
Where will you be putting your money when the action gets into full swing next week?