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2014 Madrid Masters : Tournament opens up for Rafael Nadal after Federer and Djokovic pull out and Wawrinka upset

2014 Madrid Masters : Tournament opens up for Rafael Nadal after Federer and Djokovic pull out and Wawrinka upset

A shot of Rafael Nadal of Spain's fingers taped up before his match against Juan Monaco of Argentina during day five of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 7, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.

A shot of Rafael Nadal of Spain’s fingers taped up before his match against Juan Monaco of Argentina during day five of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 7, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.

The Madrid Masters 1000, which got underway last Sunday, lost one of it’s biggest competitors when Novak Djokovic announced on Monday that he was pulling out to tend to his right wrist which has been a recurring concern for him. To add to that, Roger Federer pulled out on Tuesday to be home with his wife Mirka, who gave birth to twin boys.

To put it in perspective, the Madrid Masters is one of the nine tournaments that make up the ATP World Tour Masters 1000. These tournaments,  taking place through the year, are the most prestigious men’s tennis events after the four Grand Slams and the year-end World Tour Finals.

The Masters 1000 events usually feature 56 players, with the top eight seeds being given a bye, thus giving them more time to recuperate, keeping in mind their rigorous calendars. This effectively means that the top seeds need to win five rounds to get to the title while the others need to win six rounds (apart from the qualifiers).

The Madrid Masters has been a crucial event on the tennis calendar as it comes right in the middle of the April-June clay court season and also because it provides the much-needed practice on the clay surface before the top guns head to Roland Garros (or the French Open) towards the end of May.

La Caja Mágica “The Magic Box’”

The event has had a roller-coaster ride since it started in 1990, having been played in five different venues and on three different surfaces.

Venues :It was held in Stockholm (Sweden) from 1990 to 1994, in Essen (Germany) in 1995, in Stuttgart (Germany) from 1996-2001, and in the Madrid Arena fom 2002 through 2008, before finally moving to the current venue of Park Manzanares (also called La Caja Mágica “The Magic Box’”)

Surfaces : The tournament was played from 1990 through 2008 on indoor hardcourts. Since 2009, the surface became clay courts when the venue changed to the present Park Manzanares. In 2012, the tournament undertook the controversial experiment of using blue clay, a move which was severely criticized by top players like Nadal and Djokovic, leading to the move back to the traditional red clay.

Rafael Nadal on the controversial blue clay used in 2012.

The blue clay was used in 2012, an initiative by Ion Ţiriac, the Romanian owner of Madrid Masters to improve TV eyeballs

With the tournament into Round 2, we have already witnessed big names making surprise early exits, including 11th seed Jo Wilfried Tsonga, 13th seed Fabio Fognini of Italy, 14th seed Tommy Haas of Germany, 16th seed Tommy Robredo and the dangerous Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.  However, the biggest upset of them all has been the shock loss of World No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka at the hands of unheralded Austrian Dominic Thiem. Wawrinka, losing finalist to Nadal here in 2013, was coming straight off a famous win at Monte Carlo (more on that here) and was one of the favorites to win the event.

These early exits, coupled with the pull-outs of Djokovic and Federer, have left this year’s Madrid Masters wide open.

Draw Analysis :

Quarter 1 : Rafael Nadal has a fairly easy quarter, having already blown Juan Monaco away and facing Jarkko Nieminen next. Tomas Berdych would try his best though to get the better of Rafael Nadal, who made early exits in his last two outings in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, both incidentally being tournaments he has won seven times each.

Prediction : Rafael Nadal

Quarter 2 : This is the quarter that has seen the maximum no. of upsets already. Andy Murray’s probable path to the final earlier was Nicolas Almagro, Tsonga, Federer, Nadal and finally, Djokovic. However, the pull-outs and shock losses of Tsonga, Verdasco and Gilles Simon means that Andy Murray’s only challenge remains his second round opponent Almagro (who he beat last night).

Prediction : Andy Murray

Quarter 3 : This quarter is wide open for the taking after Stanislas Wawrinka’s early exit. Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori have an interesting Round 3 match which should more or less decide who goes through from this quarter. Feliciano Lopez would face the winner of the two in the quarter-final, but my prediction is that he would at the maximum stretch either of them to 3 sets, but not beyond.

Prediction : Kei Nishikori

Quarter 4 : After Djokovic’s pull-out, David Ferrer should be the overwhelming favorite to win this quarter. He faces his biggest test in John Isner in Round 3, while Marin Cilic awaits in the quarter-final, but with Ferrer’s ability and form, he should easily get through.

Prediction : David Ferrer

Probable Semi-final line-up :

Rafael Nadal v/s Andy Murray

Kei Nishikori v/s David Ferrer

With Nadal’s prowess on clay and his hunger to win (after two freak losses), as on display in his 6-1,6-0 crushing Round 2 win, he should be the favorite to win against Murray, who seems far from in his peak form since coming off surgery last year. Moreover, Murray has never reached a clay court final in his career, while Nadal has been a 3-time champion here at Madrid.

David Ferrer, with his experience and his ability to keep the ball deep while playing on his favorite surface, should get through easily against Nishikori.

Which would boil down to an all-Spanish final in this Spanish capital. It promises to be a cracker of a game, with David Ferrer bringing in the best of his spectacular baseline play, great fitness, footspeed, and determination against Rafael Nadal, the man widely regarded as the best player ever on clay.

Rafael Nadal is also the defending champion, and 3-time winner at this tournament.

The defending champion Rafael Nadal with his traditional ‘bite’ of the trophy (2013)

Will we see another Nadal ‘bite’ of the trophy?

We shall have to wait till Sunday for that, but if he does indeed win, he would become the only man apart from Boris Becker to have successfully defended the Madrid crown.

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