Will there be any drama this clay season? It’s not looking likely as we begin today the final clay major before the French Open, the newly-minted “Magic Box” at Madrid Tennis Masters.
Despite all the talk of the altitude, the blue courts, the bad bounces, the buggy website and the overcrowded schedule, all the top players have rocked up in support of the event: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and even the newly-married Andy Roddick has made the trip to his first clay tournament of the season.
The notable absentees are David Nalbandian, my man Gael Monfils and countryman, the alleged coke-user Richard Gasquet who I’ll get to in another blog.
First, since the French Open is just fortnight away, Madrid offers the final chance for players to jockey for their Paris seedings. Much of that focus this spring has been on the No. 2 race among Federer, Djokovic and Murray. And unless Murray pulls a rabbit out of his hat and wins Madrid (well, he is defending champion after all right?) and wins Madrid and Roger crashes in the early rounds, looks like the Swiss will stay at No. 2 heading into the French. (I’m not sure if Novak can even earn enough in Madrid to pass Roger.)
But will it happen? On to the draw…
I almost think had Madrid never replaced Hamburg, that Nadal would not be playing this week. But in support of the tournament and his home country he is. And in front of his native fans I just can’t imagine him losing this week regardless of his complaints. But his draw is dangerous. Nadal will likely get the hot Albert Montanes in the second round, the mercurial Nicolas Almagro in the round three before another showdown with Fernando Verdasco. Three Spaniards, three wins to set him up in the semifinals.
The second quarter features the guy who’s been the second best player of late, that’s Djokovic. And given the draw, the Serb should absolutely coast into the quarterfinals where things could get dicey if Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s there, but I still like the Novak in that match and on this surface.
Murray and Juan Martin del Potro are the two bullies in the third quarter, but watch out for Stan Wawrinka. I like Murray to emerge to the quarterfinals, but his opponent on that day, which will also be his 22nd birthday, could be Del Potro, Wawrinka or even Tomas Berdych. I think I’m going to lean with Wawrinka there. He’s the best pure claycourter in his section, but not good enough to beat Murray.
The last quarter is where we find Mr. Federer. Roger could have a very tricky test with Igor Andreev provided the Russian is playing up to his level. From there maybe the suddenly sound James Blake who’s playing at the moment in the Estoril final. In quarters I think it will be Nikolay Davydenko who should handle Roddick. And I’m going to pick Federer to beat Davydenko for the final spot in the semifinals.
(A few of the better early rounders that I see include Tsonga v. Safin, Roddick v. Gulbis, Berdych v. Chardy and Wawrinka v. Chardy.)
My semifinals are set with Nadal v. Djokovic, Murray v. Federer. And that means the Top 4 ranked players will have all made the last semifinals, a total rarity in top tennis events so someone’s not going to make it, but who?
Anyway, the end result is going to the same, Nadal wins and for me, he’s going to with it over Murray.
I said at the start of the clay season Nadal would have a tougher time this year than in the past. Well, looks like I’m going to be proven wrong. Vamos! (Naturally, now that I’ve given in he’ll lose!)
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