Is Rafael Nadal For Real? Novak Djokovic Leads Big 4 At Madrid Masters
by Sean Randall | April 30th, 2016, 11:53 am
  • 83 Comments

Looking at the past champions in Madrid, the tournament has been dominated by the Big 4 since its switch to clay in 2009. The quartet of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and home hero Rafael Nadal have accounted for the last seven titles there (10 of the last 11 if you include the indoor event), and there’s little reason to think that trend won’t continue next week in Spain.

The big story in tennis right now is the resurgence of Rafael Nadal who comes in on a 10-match win streak after titles earlier this month in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. But is the King of Clay really back? There’s no debate that he’s playing better but he hasn’t beaten or come close to beating his main rival, and that’s Djokovic. That’s the match we want to see. That will tell us if Rafa is for real. So will we see it in the final?

Novak Djokovic Quarter
After a wobble to start the clay season, the top-ranked Djokovic opens his bid for a second Madrid title after his 2011 win over Rafa. He’ll have either Borna Coric or Nicolas Almagro to start, then Roberto Bautista Agut or Feliciano Lopez (dangerous in the Madrid altitude) with JW Tsonga/Milos Raonic in the QFs. You might call that easy for the Serb – what is a tough draw for Djokovic these days? – but I call it tricky, especially for someone who has only made the finals once in his career in the city. Still, after a disappointing start to the clay, I expect a return to form for the dominant world No. 1.
The Pick: Novak Djokovic

Stan Wawrinka Quarter
Who’s coming out of this quarter? You have former finalists Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka along with Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils? Stan and Gasquet haven’t looked great of late while Monfils and Nishikori have, so…? But there are so many danger matches. Wawrinka could face Nick Kyrgios in his opener (whoa!), Monfils might play Phil Kohlschreiber, Gasquet could have to deal with Fernando Verdasco in the second round while Nishikori could draw Fabio Fognini. It’s truly wide open. So I’ll take the guy who’s been the most consistent and right now that’s Nishikori to upset Wawrinka in the quarters.
The Pick: Kei Nishikori

Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal Quarter
If you thought the Stan Wawrinka quarter was loaded, you ain’t seen nothing! Take a look at the third section of the Madrid draw! There’s former champions Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer plus David Goffin and Dominic Thiem who opens against Juan Martin del Potro. Geez Louise! That said, other than Thiem it should be a good start for the Nadal, Federer and Goffin. But in third round were are looking at Nadal-Goffin, Thiem-Federer. I like Nadal to beat David and if Thiem can hold his nerves (and deal with the altitude) I think he takes out Roger. But that’s a 50/50 match. So once again we get Nadal-Thiem and in front of his home fans I’m going to lean Rafa. But as I said, this will be a very good test for Nadal, and he’s doing at a place where he’s made the finals six of the last seven years.
The Pick: Rafael Nadal

Andy Murray Quarter
With so much clay power in the first three quarters, this one is by far the weakest. Almost forgotten, Murray is the defending champion after his win over Rafa a year ago, and I don’t see any real reason he can’t make it back to face Rafa again, this time in the semifinals. Murray might have Grigor Dimitrov to contend with in the third, then in the quarters probably former blue clay finalist Tomas Berdych who I think beats David Ferrer. So I see this section pretty straightforward for the Scot.
The Pick: Andy Murray

Semifinals
Novak Djokovic d Kei Nishikori: Probably a 3-setter, but a rested Novak is too strong.
Rafael Nadal d Andy Murray: I think a more confident Nadal (especially after good wins over Goffin and Thiem) gets revenge on Murray.

Finals
Novak Djokovic d Rafael Nadal: Altitude, head-to-head domination, motivation after losing in Monte Carlo all in favor of Novak.

So, more of the same. If not for Novak, maybe Nadal does win Madrid, but unfortunately for the Spaniard, that match-up just isn’t in his favor anymore. But at least Nadal is now getting deep into tournaments again.

And who knows, maybe Goffin or Thiem can make some real noise in that third quarter and pull upsets on Rafa and Roger. It’s possible. I already said I like Thiem but to them beat Rafa the next is asking a lot. And same for Goffin.

I’m also interested to see how Stan does. With his French Open title defense just three weeks away, he’s gone just 2-3 in his last five matches and – would you believe? – he doesn’t have a Top 15 win on the season (0-2)!

Still, a very interesting draw, and I know the conditions are quite different than Paris – altitude, quickness, etc – but for some guys like Stan the clock is running out on getting some good wins.

That’s easier said than done in the Big 4 Era.


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83 Comments for Is Rafael Nadal For Real? Novak Djokovic Leads Big 4 At Madrid Masters

chofer Says:

Strange question for a 9 French Open winner. I should have changed this headline: “for real” it’s really insulting. “Is he really back?” would be more a propos. And I’m not a hardcore fan. But please!


Okiegal Says:

Duh?????


Golski Says:

Agree with chofer. This is another form of insult to Nadal. Just say Novak is favorite to win Madrid because of status quo. Nadal has greater accomplishment than Novak in slams, in clay titles including 9-FO which Novak has yet to win as well as Madrid title 4 vs 1. Nadal is for real whether he wins or not. No one wins all the time including both Novak and Nadal.Just reality.


django Says:

Possible Murray dimitrov match. Will crowd be chanting Dee- mee- trov?


jane Says:

maybe i misinterpreted the title, but i assumed sean meant “for real” as in being “100% back” to his best?


gee Says:

Djoker destroyed nadal at the french, but of course the bitter fred brigade would brag if fred beats nadal there.
The brigade would conveniently forget their hypocritical weak era chant.


chofer Says:

Jane

I doesn’t seem to me like that. You expressed it better than him, so why getting around the obvious? I’m a journalist and the chosen words are misleading and poorly witten. If you were talking about Thiem or Kyrgios, that would be another story entirely. I know what he meant. I just say he meant it wrong.


chofer Says:

wrongly, I should have said. English not my mother language. Sorry.


Wog Boy Says:

“That’s the match we want to see. That will tell us if Rafa is for real. So will we see it in the final?”

I think some people are to sensitive (applies to journalists too), I don’t see anything insulting in the quote above, of course, Sean could put it the other way, but even this way it is clear to me that he is talking about whether Rafa is back to his best (not just better than before) and match with Nole should shows us the answere. People are certanly entitled to read it any way they want, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are right.


Wog Boy Says:

^^ too sensitive


Dave Says:

I agree with Wog Boy on this one. English is my first language and It was very obvious what the writer meant in this article. Is Nadal 100% back. Nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Let’s move on now and talk about tennis.


chofer Says:

Maybe. But this is so much insightful and better. And comes to the same conclusion…
http://www.tennis.com/pro-game/2016/04/what-djokovic-worry/58311/#.VyVk1EfEXRQ


Tennisfan Says:

A bit off-topic but that picture of Rafa with Deepika is so random!


jane Says:

^ but look at the title of that one. it implies that novak has to “worry” now that rafa’s playing better. eh, 6 and 1 half dozen methinks. :)


jane Says:

my post is addressed to chofer’s at 10:07


jalep Says:

Hey, Tennis-X fixed the poll daddy polls so you can’t vote 100 times for a favorite! What’s up with that?


courbon Says:

HRISTOS VOSKRESE !!


pklee Says:

djokovic has head-to-head domination over nadal?
i think they are pretty even.
and nadal dominating h2h on clay except 2015.


chofer Says:

Jane

But it’s still a question:) Ambiguity close the deal for me (that claver use of comma!). Better advertising; not too on your face. Warmer and inviting. Even though it’s prety much the same content and arguments; even the picks! Which, BTW I pretty much agree with.


Van Persie Says:

Happy Easter to all the Orthodox!


Margot Says:

@chofer 1.45 pm
It’s very much the style of writing on this site, quite….um….punchy, if I can put it diplomatically…..cos I like Sean ;)


Pauly Says:

Yes happy Easter Djokovic
Very interesting Madrid
Nadal not his favourite court plus conditions don’t favour him as much …altitude ? Who knows ?
However should be cracking tournament
Should Nadal play Djokovic in final … I think Djokovic is still in Nadal’s head so Djokovic would maybe win but you never know Coz anything can Happen
Nadal needs to make the final so not to lose ranking points
Murray might surprise Wawrinka Nishikori too
Who knows what Federer will do ?
Wow it’s gonna be worth watching
My opinion Nadal must play at high level to keep the momentum going


George Says:

This article is complimentary to Nadal. If Nadal beats Djokovic he is 100% back, if not he is not 100% back. This means that by default Nadal is a better player than Djokovic as it implies that 100% Nadal would beat Djokovic. I disagree with that school of thought. Djokovic is not a valid test as current version of Djokovic is the best tennis player ever and it is normal for anyone to lose against him. The fact that Nadal recently beat Murray and Nishikori tells me that he is 100%. However, whether Nadal’s 100% is sufficient to beat Djokovic in Madrid is question I would like to see being answered in the final.


Tylor Says:

Are you questioning? Of course Rafa is The King on clay ! Do you doubt? Look his records..


Pauly Says:

George

On clay Nadal doesn’t need to be 100% to beat Djokovic
Djokovic isn’t the best player ever
He’s no where near it yet
He has only 11 majors and has benefited greatly Coz Nadal & Federer aren’t in their prime
Could you imagine Nadal being at his best in clay
He’d beat Djokovic most days & Federer in his prime would also beat him so your point is way off
Djokovic was at his best in 2011 yet lost to Federer in Paris semi final & shouodve lost in US open semi until Federer choked
We will see how well your hero does this year
Nothing but a win in Paris will be acceptable


Ronn Says:

^^^^^^^^

“Only” 11 MAJORS. Geez…


Wog Boy Says:

@courbon,

Vaistinu Voskrese

https://youtu.be/pIy0L-qwxcg


danica Says:

I also do not see any insult of Rafa in the wording of title, rather a clever word play. Whether Rafa is really for real this clay season, we will see in Madrid and even more so, in Rome. He did have a strong showing in the last two clay events and as far as I am concerned, those are pretty good indicators. The only thing is that he didn’t have to face Nole and until we have that match, we won’t know who the RG favorite really is.

PS: And yes, happy Easter to the Orthodox.


danica Says:

Ronn,
I know, right?! :)))

Pauly,
Rafa absolutely has to be 100+% to beat Djokovic. Rafa had a few close shaves with Nole when Nole was nowhere close to his current form. Like Hamburg, Madrid 2009 (I mean, that was a match worthy of a final), several times at RG… Novak is the only player that has wins over Rafa on all major clay courts.

And please, spare us those lame excuses for Nole’s GS titles. “Rafa and Rog were not in their prime”. Well, one can argue that both benefited because when they were winning, Nole was in his prime. How about that?


Rafafan Says:

Rafa at his best will beat Nole any day on clay.


Pauly Says:

Danica

Nadal doesn’t have to be 100% on clay to beat Djokovic
That’s set in concrete !
But hardcourts is different Nadal must be playing 100% to have any chance
That’s set in concrete !

This ridiculous argument GOAT should be left out of the equation … all three are great !
Djokovic beats Nadal when he’s in his head as he was in 2011
There’s none of this 100% crap needed to beat Djokovic
I’ve watched most of their matches in their history
What I’ve observed is that they’re very evenly matched
With Nadal better on clay Djokovic better on hardcourt
When they’re both in their primes it’s always close matches
They play similar tennis by grinding out wins & the real reason Djokovic has been beating Nadal lately is that Nadal cannot outgrind Djokovic no more Coz his stamina isn’t like it once was also Nadal cannot outhit Djokovic like Wawrinka can
We all have our favourite players but isn’t the quality of tennis better to watch when close matches are played ?

Nadal isn’t playing 100% he isn’t hitting his forehand as well nor does he have the legendary stamina he once did to outgrind everyone but he’s improving this version on Nadal
The old version of Nadal isn’t coming back
The rabbit who could get back every ball as SAFIN called him

Hope Madrid is great tennis close matches & Nadal’s momentum continues !


Wog Boy Says:

So, I guess Rafa wasn’t at his best in 2011 in Madrid and Rome?


danica Says:

Pauly,

Rafa is indisputably The GOAT on clay while Nole is nowhere close. However, both you and I are speaking in present tense. You say that Rafa does not need to be 100% to beat Nole on clay. I say he has to be. Nowadays. Then you say that Rafa is not 100% anymore and never will be (?!). Do you imply that Rafa will not win if he plays Novak?

I would partially agree with Rafafan – my take on this is that Rafa’s best beats Nole on clay most of the days. But not any day.


Pauly Says:

Danica

The litmus test is coming
Beat Djokovic then Nadal can say to the tennis world I’m back
You must understand Nadal of old will never return
He’s older now this is a totally different version of Nadal

Honestly I don’t know if he can beat Djokovic until they play


danica Says:

Pauly,

But that’s what I am saying.
Rafa had two great tournaments (and two crappy clay tournaments at the beginning of the season) where he announced that he can win tournaments on clay again. However, for various reasons, he did not have to face Nole in either one of them. If and/or when he plays Nole, we will see the picture clearer. Rafa’s clay court legacy is amazing, astounding, unbelievable, put any epithet you like. But what matters in terms of this season is how they perform against each other now. This is going to be an interesting month for sure.


Pauly Says:

Wogboy

Nadal wasn’t playing well in 2011 French open
How he managed to make the final & win it was unbelievable
Had he played Djokovic he would’ve got beaten no doubt
Djokovic was in his head


George Says:

@Pauly: In hypothetical encounters (peak X vs peak Djokovic; 2009 Y vs 2016 Djokovic) Djokovic is not doing very well as judged by fans of X and Y. I even read how Djokovic would be beaten by Serena Williams and Gail Falkenberg. However, in encounters that actually happened, Djokovic is doing much better. As Nadal said on January 12th 2016 “Since I know this sport I never saw somebody playing at this level,”. Maybe you disagree with Nadal?


Pauly Says:

Danica

The litmus test is Djokovic I agree
But last year Nadal was losing to everyone
Wawrinka Murray Federer Nishikori plus 3 losses to the crazy Italiano foggy
I sensed at Indian wells Nadal was close to Djokovic
Should’ve won that first set if he did wow that match could’ve gone to Rafa but not to be
We will see Madrid Rome then Paris
I just hope in Paris they don’t play early
It’s better for Rafa to play Djokovic in the final


Pauly Says:

George

Nadal said perfect Djokovic Coz he was struggling himself
He had to say something Coz the Crowd were heckling him
Not something Nadal was used to seeing
No one plays perfect tennis
Nadal is better now let’s see if Djokovic plays perfect tennis again it doesn’t exist


J-Kath Says:

The Poll on the Madrid Win is:
57.63% Nole
32.04% Rafa
5.52% Roger
2.0% Andy

Unless fans are hitting the poll on multiple occasions, I’m assuming this is what the majority of Tennis-X contributors believe or Wish/want.


George Says:

@Pauly: To know what Nadal really thinks you are either a mind reader or a close member of his team/family. Unfortunately, I don’t have your X-man skills or your family ties so I have to take into account what he says at face value. I believe that Nadal is a decent human being that usually says what he thinks.


Wog Boy Says:

JK,
It is the other way around, Rafa has 57% and Nole 32%.


Daniel Says:

Nadal was so good on clay that his fans think any match he lost has an asterix. The old “Nadal is invincible” on clay mantra.

But the things is no player plays at his best for 10 years every match.

2011 Nadal was at his best, and Djoko up his level. Nadal may be confused mentally with the new Djokovic who refused to lose, but even so, is part of sport, you have to orvecome that, and it took him a while and a dip in form by Djoko in 2012 (starting with his Grandpa passing) .


Giles Says:

Some posters are having difficulties reading the poll!!


Giles Says:

” and a dip in form by Djokoi in 2012 ( starting with his grandpa passing)”.
Are you for real Daniel? I remember joker not even attending his grandpa’s funeral ( was playing MC at the time).


J-Kath Says:

Thank you folks but not on my poll…just checked.


J-Kath Says:

And checked again…my pages are jumping…..And yes, I bow my head in shame…..YOU ARE RIGHT…even you are right Giles…well I never ….(Tennis X pages are coming in in Bold and large lettering)…

Goodbye, I’m emigrating.


George Says:

@J-Kath: You are fine. Prior to 2015W final BBC poll was 75% for Federer and 25% for Djokovic.


J-Kath Says:

You are kind George…I’ll send You a postcard.


Alexandra Says:

That Rafa is picked to make the final is already a sign he has played better. At least he already played better on clay than during the last two seasons. Not bad for someone who is said to be in decline for a while now.

He maybe doesn’t beat Djokovic, but everybody else is possible to beat. Things looked a lot worse in February.


Rafafan Says:

Madrid sud be super interesting. But I expect Rafa to come through at the end. I don’t think Djokovic will make the finals


Green Lady Says:

Happy Easter Wogboy, and any other posters that celebrate it today ;-)) ….


Alexandra Says:

And no Nadal was not at his best in 2011.

Clearly Djokovic played on a much higher level at the time. Djokovic is not a good match-up for Rafa, in constrast to Fed. And at the time it was a new Djokovic he faced.


Rafafan Says:

Also, I don’t think Rafa has ever swept the entire European clay season. ( MC, Barca, Madrid/Hamburg, Rome and Paris.)
Even during his hay days. So a loss is in either Madrid or Rome is not a disaster, even when judging by his historical lofty standards.
If he wins either 1 of Madrid or Rome, I think he is favorite for Paris. If he loses at both the tourneys then it is a cause for concern.


Giles Says:

Rafafan. Yes he has. Check it out.


jane Says:

^ i thought so too.

rafa is continuing to say the sport is clean, to “believe” in it and his colleagues.

Carole Bouchard ‏@carole_bouchard 5h5 hours ago
“I believe in my sport. I believe my rivals are clean”, said Nadal at presser. Asking again for “transparency” in tests results.


jane Says:

more on rafa’s comments here …

“I believe that my rivals are clean. I believe the sport is clean and I believe in our anti-doping program, no, and it’s an independent one.” – See more at: http://www.tennisnow.com/News/2016/May/Nadal-Tennis-is-Clean,-Publish-Drug-Test-Results.aspx#sthash.oCkTi9tV.dpuf


gee Says:

You can’t really compare a red faced Novak who had trouble breathing on clay, his worst surface, to Nadal who barely broke a sweat until 2012 french open.
Novak was the one fighting himself most of the times & playing closely but too slowly throughout their entire match.
Novak is equal to Nadal on clay now.

His best clay play is far superior to Nadal’s A game, as 2011, 2013-2015 showed. Fed never battled that closely with nadal, even when had 2 match points in Rome 2006.
Only after Nadal’s tough fight with Moya & Novak caused him to lose.
French Open is about measuring fitness & Novak improved his fitness slowly on clay as well as grass.


jalep Says:

Really good, jane. He’s not done yet! Young guns are coming on strong but he and Rafa are still favorites by far. Andy in there too, I hope — and some other ‘old guns’ like Kei, Delpo, etc…

I’m even missing crazy Martin Klizan. What happened to him lately, anyone know?


Jun Says:

jane, thanks for the link. I will never forget THE SHOT against Federer in 2011 USO semis. That’s the best for me.


MMT Says:

I think the title of this speaks to how far off his best Nadal has been for the last couple of years. Ever since losing to Kyrgios at Wimbledon in 2014 his game had been in decline, to the point where some are questioning whether this “comeback” is a mirage. Unimaginable two years ago.

I think Federer was reasonable in declaring Nadal his favorite to win Roland Garros, but I won’t be convinced until he lifts the trophy. 7 in a row is still 7 in a row, and he hasn’t done that for 2 years and he has not been dominant – winning yes, but not dominant. Also, I don’t see that his game has evolved so much as returned to where it was, and I think Djokovic’s has improved a lot since they played here last year, so if they meet, my money’s on the Djoker.

Wawrinka could always surprise us, and there are a few bogey’s back in the mix (namely all the finalists this weekend, with the exception of Schwartzman), so neither of their paths are guaranteed to the latter stages, but if they make it through, I still see this as Djokovic’s year to win RG.


Wog Boy Says:

” I will never forget THE SHOT against Federer in 2011 USO semis.”

Something tells me Roger will never forget it either..


Dave Says:

Yes Nadal needs to be playing at 100% to beat Djokovic on clay. Since 2011 Djokovic is 6 and 5 against Nadal on Clay. It’s pretty evenly matched. And please don’t say that Nadal wasn’t playing well in 2011. I could use a million excuses for Djokovic as well. He was throwing up during the 2014 French Open final and really wasn’t starting to feel good until the 4th set again. 2012, If they kept playing in the rain, anything could have happened. 8 games in a row happened. 2013 the famous net touch in the 5th set. I won’t count any of these excuses in favor of Nole, because that’s all they are, excuses. In 11 clay court matches since 2011 Nole has 6 wins and 5 losses against Nadal. That’s all we can go by. We can say that neither them were at 100% in some of those matches. But we will be debating all day for nothing.


jane Says:

glad you guys & gals enjoyed the video :) i thought they used fun music too.

jalep, maybe another year or so for the old guard but the youngins’ are on their way methinks!


Wog Boy Says:

Dave,

The only reason Nole is so dominant since 2011 is that Roger is passed his prime and Rafa is not at his best..and the rest are weak era players..


django Says:

Jane @2:18.
Will Pound comment or does he only comment when Novak speaks?


chrisford1 Says:

Keep in mind Nole will have no pushover in his initial match. Coric is in good form and Almagro, a huge talent & head case, is playing far better than in the last 3 years – he won Estoril.

Jane, thanks for the highlight reel. Love the one at 40 seconds that was at MC a couple years back that so shocked poor Mike Youzhny he netted his overhead.

No shortage of highlight or tribute reels to Federer, Djokovic, or Nadal. All are deserved by the 3. And you can compile , likely, some pretty good hot shot and tribute reels to others like Andy, Stan, Birdy, Ferru, Tsonga..
One tribute I liked was the following link – which shows Nole’s path was littered with real heartbreakers, tribulations that came with the triumphs. That the mark of a champion is not in winning so much as overcoming losses, personal foibles and hurts than going back at it stronger and getting better.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSO3Egjk9rc


Wog Boy Says:

Pound couldn’t get more suitable name that goes with his personality..


Dave Says:

Wog Boy,

What’s your first name? Or is it something you have never revealed on a forum?

Also, I think there is a much greater chance that someone else beats Nole before the final than Nadal beating Nole in the final. If Nole makes it to the final, he will be ready and raise his level in the final. Also, Nole always seems to raise his level against Nadal when he needs to do so.


Wog Boy Says:

Dave,

I revealed quite a few things about me, but never my first name and it is not Dick;)


Dave Says:

I had a feeling you were going to remain a mystery. haha


jane Says:

django, good question! :)


jane Says:

^ indeed, becker said very similar things to rafa: he said he believes all those guys are clean too. as did novak.


Dave Says:

Just to add to the fact that Nadal needs to be playing 100% to be Djokovic is the fact that Djokovic is 5 wins and 2 losses against Nadal on clay in masters 1000′s. Not the most dominating numbers from the king of clay against his great rival at these events.


Dave Says:

Just to add to the fact that Nadal needs to be playing 100% to be Djokovic is the fact that Djokovic is 5 wins and 2 losses against Nadal on clay in masters 1000′s. Not the most dominating numbers from the king of clay against his great rival at these events.


Dave Says:

To beat Djokovic.


Dave Says:

Sorry I forgot to add that Nole is 5 wins and 2 losses in Masters 1000′s on clay since 2011.


chrisford1 Says:

Django – yep, tennis establishment applause when Murray said the sport was challenged with drug users in the ranks and more testing was needed. When Djokovic stuck up as a champion does, for his sport being clean and his comrades too – many tennis writers extolled Murray’s “bravery” and said Djokovic was ignorant. Some compared Novak to Lance Armstrong, as did that ex-WADA idiot Canadian, Dick Pound.

With Fed, Rafa, Becker aligning with Novak? Nothing but silence.


Green Lady Says:

Rafafan he did in 2010, he also went unbeaten on grass in 2008, and the American swing in 2013, in 2013 he was the only player to have 35 wins on both clay and HCs, not too shabby for a guy whos just a clay court player, well according to some ….


Humble Rafa Says:

that picture of Rafa with Deepika is so random

Who is Deepika? I take pictures with fans all the time.

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