On a somber day in the tennis world with the passing of ATP CEO Brad Drewett, the tournament in Madrid recognized the tour chief with a moment of silence before making the men’s draw. And the field is stacked with only Juan Martin Del Potro missing due to that virus.
Defending champion Roger Federer returns after a six week layoff. Novak Djokovic is the hot man fresh off his improbable Monte Carlo win and Rafael Nadal is always a favorite on this clay surface. But with Rafa ranked down at No. 5, the real intrigue of the draw was in which quarter would Nadal land. And as luck would have it for Nadal he fell in David Ferrer’s section (bad luck for David) and on the opposite side of Novak. So essentially it became a non-story for now (had Rafa been top four he still could have drawn Ferrer).
As for the entirety of the draw, Djokovic is on top of a very tricky section. After a bye, he’ll likely play the blossoming Grigor Dimitrov in his opener, then the dangerous Stan Wawrinka before the streaky JW Tsonga in the quarters. Tsonga will have to contend with Fernando Verdasco, who upset Nadal in Madrid a year ago, plus Milos Raonic and his first round opponent Nikolay Davydenko. It’s a tough quarter but I think Novak comes through.
Andy Murray and Tomas Berdcyh are the heavyweights in the second section. Murray, who’s never been to a clay final, thankfully won’t have to worry about any real strong claycourters in his path early. There is former Madrid semifinalist Tomaz Bellucci and Horacia Zeballos, but there not elite dirtballers. Murray should get through Gilles Simon in the third and then knock out 2012 finalist Berdych in the quarters. Berdych will have his hands full with Jerzy Janowicz or Sam Querrey in his opener before a date with Juan Monaco who collides with the struggling Janko Tipsarevic, a semifinalist last year, in one of the best first rounders. On second thought, I’ll take Monaco over Berdych to play Murray. And in an upset I’ll take the Argentine.
Moving to the bottom half. Rafa’s section is heavy on the clay specialists with Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro and Fabio Fognini. It’s a tough quadrant but one I expect Rafa to get through. He’ll likely have Fognini at the start, then Almagro followed by Ferrer who’ll probably have to get through a tough Tommy Haas-Andreas Seppi winner.
In what is a pretty comfortable section, Federer opens his title defense against Radek Stepanek or Bernard Tomic. In the third round I think he gets Kei Nishikori, who beats Jurgen Melzer in a tough opener, then in the quarters maybe Marin Cilic. I’ll take the Croat to work his magic again against John Isner in the second then upset Richard Gasquet in the third. Cilic has a big game and in the light air he should do well.
So my semifinals look like: Djokovic v. Monaco, Nadal v. Federer. And as of now I think Rafa gets his revenge on Novak a week from Sunday.
A few things though. The surface has returned to red so players should be much more comfortable this year compared to last when they were slipping all over. That should help the movers like Rafa. But, Madrid is still at altitude so big servers like Isner, Raonic and Feliciano Lopez can do some damage like they have in the past. And if those power hardcourt guys wanted to make some noise on the clay, this is the tournament to do it
And there are a lot of nice early round matches. Raonic-Davydenko, Goffin-Verdasco, Chardy-Zeballos, Benneteau-Simon, Tipsarevic-Monaco, Querrey-Janowicz, Haas-Seppi, Baghdatis-Robredo, Nishikori-Melzer, Stepanek-Tomic.
Of the Big Four, the most vulnerable is Murray. Federer’s won this title before, Murray didn’t play last year and lost in the third round the year before. And he didn’t look great at Monte Carlo. So with the dissimilar conditions to the French (altitude), he might not be as committed to winning in Madrid. We’ll see.
And really, Federer could lose early even to Stepanek. I could see Djokovic losing to Wawrinka. But after last year and after Monte Carlo, I don’t see Rafa losing again.
Matches begin on Sunday. Tennis Channel should start up on Monday.
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