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
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.
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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