It will likely be long, sleepless night for Madrid tournament promoter Ion Tiriac. The former Romanian star made a controversial change coloring the clay from red to blue in effort to provide fans and worldwide TV audience a better viewing experience, and of course raise the profile of his event.
But after the three days of play the reviews having been decidedly negative and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic called into the question the conditions following a win today. Now, the two biggest stars in the sport, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, will have their say on Wednesday.
Nadal enters an opening round clash with Nikolay Davydenko riding a 21-match clay win streak. The Spaniard who lost in this final a year ago to Djokovic, has had trouble with Davydenko in the past – Davydenko leads 6-4 – but with the Russian now 30 and well off his best form Rafa should ease through.
Rafa’s won all 10 sets on clay this season and in front of his home fans I expect a strong performance irrespective of the playing conditions.
In the marquee match of the day and of the second round, promising star and future Slam winner Milos Raonic gets a rematch against Federer. Roger hasn’t played since a stunning 3-set loss to Andy Roddick in Miami over a month ago. Before then, the Swiss lost to another power player, John Isner, in a jaw-dropping shocker on the red clay in Davis Cup. In between, Federer beat Milos in three sets at Indian Wells, and I expect another tough match Wednesday.
Roanic is a quick learner and he’s rapidly getting his mark on the clay. But I still tip Federer a slight favorite. Much has been made of the surface this week and it does seem to favor the guys who are offensive – playing defense can get you into trouble because of the slickness of the court.
Federer is offensive, then again so is Raonic. But Roger should be able to exploit the big Canadian’s movement and pull through. But really, this match is that close – remember a year ago Feliciano Lopez all but choked against Roger in Madrid.
If Federer can’t find his serve he’ll be in trouble, because Raonic will hold his and he’s going to get his fair share of winners. So Roger will have to serve well, keep Milos on the move by playing first-strike tennis.
Also tomorrow, the red hot Juan Martin Del Potro squares off against Mikhail Youhzny. Today, Del Potro didn’t miss a beat coming from Estoril by routing Florian Mayer 6-4, 6-2. The Argentine is looking deadly these days, but for how long?
Again, after watching Djokovic ice skate around the court today it will be interesting to see how Nadal and Federer look. Novak did not appear comfortable at all today and with the surface perhaps playing dangerously slick I wonder if some players might not want to play at their maximum levels.
I’m the first to call out players for whining, but once they start questioning the safety of the surface you have to take notice. Unfortunately for the tournament, there’s little that can be done to make things better mid-tournament other than hope power brokers like Nadal, Federer find the conditions agreeable. For their sake, let’s hope that happens. Otherwise this intriguing tournament become a glorified, gimmicky exhibition. And this close to the French that helps no one.
Tennis Channel will have live coverage of the men’s tournament all day starting at 7am ET.
WEDNESDAY MADRID SCHEDULE
MANOLO SANTANA start 10:50 am
 A Radwanska (POL) vs S Errani (ITA) – WTA
Not Before 1:00 PM
R Stepanek (CZE) vs  D Ferrer (ESP) – ATP
Not Before 3:15 PM
N Davydenko (RUS) vs  R Nadal (ESP) – ATP
Starting at 7:00 PM
 V Azarenka (BLR) vs  A Ivanovic (SRB) – WTA
 R Federer (SUI) vs M Raonic (CAN) – ATP
ARANTXA SANCHEZ VICARIO start 1:00 pm
 A Kerber (GER) vs  N Li (CHN) – WTA
 F Verdasco (ESP) vs [Q] A Falla (COL) – ATP
 N Almagro (ESP) vs M Granollers (ESP) – ATP
M Youzhny (RUS) vs  J Del Potro (ARG) – ATP
 G Simon (FRA) vs [WC] G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) – ATP
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