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2014 Mutua Madrid Open: Interesting storylines await as Nadal, Federer, Wawrinka and Ferrer challenge for the crown

With Djokovic pulling out and Nadal struggling with his form, the Madrid Masters will likely present an unlikely plot to tennis viewers.

Last year's Madrid finalists Rafael Nadal and Stanislas Wawrinka could contribute to an interesting plot at this year's edition

Last year’s Madrid finalists Rafael Nadal and Stanislas Wawrinka could contribute to an interesting plot at this year’s edition

Rafael Nadal and the claycourt swing are inseparable entities which will remain indelibly intertwined in our minds. But will the pattern be repeated this year too? That is a question that many tennis pundits are mulling over with inconclusive results. After all, only time can truly answer it. Yet, for fans of the game who idolise its professional practitioners, we can’t not think about the possible ramifications of the answer, even if we don’t know the answer clearly.

When Nadal lost to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer at the Monte Carlo Masters in the quarterfinals, many speculated that he would come up with an explanation for the loss. But it turned out to be exactly what it seemed on the surface: Ferrer was in stupendous form that day while Nadal was a little below par.

In the quarterfinals at Barcelona too – a venue where he hadn’t been defeated since 2003 – he was made to bow down to another compatriot, Nicolas Almagro, who in the past was an almost non-entity in front of Nadal’s giant prowess.

So now, Nadal enters Madrid as the top seed, but not as the overwhelming favourite as in the previous years. But he has been saved temporarily from losing his top ranking at the very beginning of the month, during which he has all 4,000 points to defend, due to Novak Djokovic’s withdrawal.

With a seemingly debilitated Nadal and without an injured Djokovic, the draw seems to be wide open for others to usurp the crown. The immediate name that flashes into one’s mind is that of Roger Federer’s. Having eliminated the constraints that a troubling back placed on his game last season, the Swiss Maestro is in the second quarter of the draw. And Madrid is no new hunting ground for this ever-hungry champion – he has triumphed here three times earlier.

Federer’s scheduled opponent in the quarterfinal is Andy Murray. Murray has never been a serious contender at claycourt tournaments. But this is a great opportunity for the Scot to achieve something significant on clay by winning his first Masters title on the surface.

That said, Nadal will be no pushover. He will face no serious challenge until the quarterfinals, where he could face either Tomas Berdych or Grigor Dimitrov. The young Bulgarian is coming fresh on the back of a title at Bucharest while the Czech finished runner-up last week at the Portugal Open. Either way, Nadal’s real challenge begins at the quarterfinal stage.

The bottom half is headlined by the newly promoted World No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka. After a stupendous season so far, Stan is looking to bolster his chances of retaining a top 4 spot, on his favoured surface. The hurdles he could face till the quarterfinals are negligible. And in the last eight stage, he could possibly face eighth-seeded Milos Raonic, or Kei Nishikori. Both the young guns are trying to climb the pedestal to be ranked in the top 8. In the stiff competition that the Next-Gen players are going through, these two are trying to manifest themselves as the players to look forward to in the future.

The final quarter is led by David Ferrer. The Spaniard has been a little inconsistent with his form this year. With a title and a win over Nadal to his credit, he is trying to regain a top four spot which a bunch of players are vying to retain or regain. If he is able to play his natural game and not falter, he has a good chance of making it deep into the draw.

A cohort of in-form players are locked in a tight battle for the quarterfinal spot against Ferrer. Fabio Fognini, Ernest Gulbis, Alexander Dolgopolov and Marin Cilic are all in the race to clinch that spot in the absence of the second seed Djokovic.

In all, the Madrid Masters is in for an interesting week with no clear favourite  but a dozen serious contenders for the title.

Possible quarterfinal line-ups:

Nadal vs Dimitrov

Federer vs Murray

Nishikori vs Wawrinka

Ferrer vs Fognini

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