The Mutua Madrid Masters is the first major tune-up event for the French Open. But given the high altitude of Madrid, which results in much faster conditions than usual clay courts, the event is not the best pointer for the players’ form heading into Paris. The event has moved on from its blue clay fiasco of 2012, much to the delight of the players. And with the Big Four on the men’s side back in the same draw, there are some interesting storylines to follow. Here is our breakdown of the men’s 56 player draw which kicks off on Sunday.
Novak Djokovic is not in the same form as he was in 2011. Yet, the Serb has a more-than-impressive 26-2 record for the season. With his win over Nadal in the Monte Carlo finals, Djokovic has shown that he is the biggest threat to the Spaniard’s continued reign in Paris. Djokovic has a bye in the first round (all the top 8 seeds get one in the first round), but could face the prodigious Grigor Dimitrov in the second round. The Bulgarian is up to No.29 in the rankings and nearly knocked out Nadal in the Monte Carlo quarters. Dimitrov has the shots and the game to upset Djokovic. We just need to find out if he has the temperament yet.
Djokovic is slated to meet the Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, who engaged the Serb in that memorable five setter in Melbourne in January, in the third round and should be able to win that one (Djokovic leads 12-2 in their H2H) and seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters. 28 year old Tsonga has been working with a new coach, Roger Rasheed, to bolster his grand slam hopes, but will find the going tough in Madrid. A second round showdown with the talented Alexandr Dolgopolv and a third round showdown with Milos Raonic doesn’t sound like too much fun. Raonic’s game, based on his big serve and powerful forehand, should not lend itself very well to the clay. But he did reach the semis in Barcelona for the second year in a row last week and given the faster conditions in Madrid, he could make some inroads in this draw.
First Round Match to Watch Out for – Milos Roanic vs. Nikolay Davydenko
Headed for an early exit – Seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Keep an eye out for – Martin Klizan
Predicted Quarter final – Novak Djokovic vs. Milos Roanic
At no. 3, Andy Murray is the top seed in this quarter. After an uncharacteristically early exit in Monte Carlo, Murray has been working hard with coach Ivan Lendl to fine-tune his game. But no one expects him to beat Djokovic in the semis if the pair gets there. Murray is still vulnerable on clay and Thomaz Bellucci or Florian Mayer will be looking to pull an upset in the second round. Possible opponents in the third round include 16th seeded Gilles Simon, the dangerous Frenchman Jeremy Chardy or Argentine Horacio Zellabos, the only player besides Djokovic to beat Nadal this year. Zellabos pulled that off in the finals of Nadal’s comeback event in Chile but has since gone only 3-7 on the tour.
Sixth seeded Tomas Berydch is on the other side of Murray’s quarter. Berdych reached the finals here last year and is in good form with a 23-8 record this season (2-2 on clay) highlighted by final appearances in Dubai and Marseille. The draw hasn’t been kind to the Czech as American Sam Querrey or Jerzy Janowicz await in the second round. Serbian ninth seed Jank Tipsarevic is also in this section.
First Round Match to Watch Out for – Janko Tipsarevic vs. Juan Monaco – Both have been struggling this year. Tipsarevic is 10-8 while Monaco is 9-9. The good news is that one of them has to win in this match
Headed for an early exit – Andy Murray
Keep an eye out for – Jerzy Janowicz
Predicted Quarter final – Jerzy Janowicz vs. Gilles Simon
Rafa’s got his mojo back, at least on clay! Nadal is only 25-8 in Madrid; probably his worst record at among all the big clay court events. Much of that could be attributed to the fast conditions and altitude in Madrid. Yet, Rafa should be able to get past the mad Frenchman Benoit Paire in the second round, an either Nicolas Almagro or Fabio Fognini the third round.
On the other side of this quarter is Nadal’s compatriot David Ferrer. Ferrer has had better results on the hardcourts as compared to the clay and needs to do win some matches in the coming weeks to hold on to the no. 4 ranking and more importantly the no. 4 seeding in Paris. Ferrer has a tough path to his scheduled quarter final with Nadal. 31 year old Tommy Robredo, who is rediscovering his winning form, could cause some trouble in round two and the ageless German Tommy Haas, who won Munich on Sunday, could be up in round three.
First Round Match to Watch Out for – Tommy Robredo vs. Marcos Baghdatis
Headed for an early exit – Nicolas Almagro
Keep an eye out for – Fabio Fognini, semi-finalist in Monte Carlo
Predicted Quarter final – Rafael Nadal vs. Tommy Haas
Roger Federer is the top name in this section. The Swiss is still ranked no. 2 in spite of a modest 13-4 record this season and is playing for the first time after an eight week break. While his batteries may be refreshed, the lack of match play and wins this year could leave him susceptible to an early loss. But the draw gods have been kind to him. 20 year old Bernard Tomic is his likely second round opponent; Japan’s Kei Nishikori, whose body seems to break down every time he starts winning consistently on tour, is the slated third round opponent and eighth seed Richard Gasquet could come up in the quarters.
Gasquet is 23-6 this season with 2 titles to his name, but he’s still prone to under-performing in big matches. Gasquet has the falmboyant Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the second round and Croatian Marin Cilic or American John Isner in the third round.
First Round Match to Watch Out for – Bernard Tomic vs. Radek Stepanek
Headed for an early exit – Kei Nishikori
Keep an eye out for – John Isner
Predicted Quarter final – Roger Federer vs. John Isner
Semi- Finals Prediction – Novak Djokovic vs. Jerzy Janowicz; Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer (Nadal should have enough confidence and Federer enough rust to see Nadal come through this one even on the fast courts of Madrid)
Finals Prediction – Novak Djokovic to beat Rafael Nadal - Hard to see Nadal, who was unable to beat Djokovic on the clay courts of Monte Carlo, defeat the Serb in Madrid. The Serb should win this title and build some more confidence heading into Paris.