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Madrid Open 2019: Roger Federer's projected route to the title

ANALYST
Feature
590   //    Timeless

If there is once thing that has kept every tennis enthusiast excited for the Madrid Open, it is the return of the ever-so-elegant Roger Federer on clay after a gap of two years. And just like every other decision in his career, he has chosen the right tournament for his comeback as he has had a fair amount of success on the clay courts of Madrid over the years.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Open 2009
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Open 2009

Federer has won the tournament three times, when it was played on three different surfaces (hard, clay and blue clay). Moreover, the clay courts in Madrid are different than that of Roland Garros, because of the altitude of the city; the ball approaches the racquet a bit faster than in Paris.

That naturally favors an aggressive player like Federer, who is all set to embrace the courts of Madrid after a long time. Seeded No. 4, Federer has received a bye into the second round.

In his tournament opener he might face Richard Gasquet for the 20th time; Federer has 17 out of the 19 matches they have played previously. That said, Gasquet's only two victories came on clay - in Rome 2011 and Monte-Carlo 2005.

If Federer gets past Gasquet, his third round opponent could be David Goffin or Gael Monfils. Both Goffin and Monfils are struggling to find form of late, but it will still be difficult for Federer to withstand the challenge they pose.

If he passes that test, then more trouble awaits Federer in the form of Dominic Thiem. Thiem is in the form of his life after winning the Barcelona Open last week. He is striking the ball cleanly and using the angles perfectly, especially with his backhand cross-court which is likely going to be a trouble-maker for Federer.

No one can predict how Federer is going to perform on clay, but if he finds a way to beat Thiem in the quarterfinals he would likely face Novak Djokovic next.

Even Djokovic has not been looking in good shape lately, as evident from his outings in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte-Carlo. But the Madrid tournament could well bring Djokovic back to form considering the fact that there is so much competition around.

If Federer gets to the final, the King of Clay Rafael Nadal would likely be waiting. The pair haven't met since their championship match in Shanghai 2017; they were all set to meet in the semi-finals of Indian Wells earlier this year but Nadal had to withdraw due to a knee injury.

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So the first tournament of Federer's claycourt comeback seems pretty tough. All the aforementioned matches are sure to provide plenty of drama and excitement for all the viewers.

It will also be interesting to see what strategy Federer adopts in Madrid. Will he stick to his conventional aggressive game, or will he stay back at the baseline and play long rallies? Indulging in long rallies is not something Federer is comfortable doing anymore, as evident from his play over the last year and a half.

It remains to be seen how his aggressive approach works out for him as the tournament progresses. Nevertheless, it is going to be an interesting tournament to watch as the tussle to reign over clay has become more open with Nadal not dominating as much as he has in previous years.

Federer's projected route to the title:

1st round -- Bye

2nd round -- Richard Gasquet

3rd round -- David Goffin

Quarter-finals -- Dominic Thiem

Semi-finals -- Novak Djokovic

Final -- Rafael Nadal

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