The second claycourt Masters 1000 event of the ATP season commences on 2 May in Madrid. The tournament is marking a return to the tennis calendar after being canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The field at this year's Madrid Open is depleted though, with top players like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka having decided to sit out due to a variety of reasons. But five-time winner Rafael Nadal is very much there, and he will be the biggest attraction at the Caja Magica over the course of next week.
Looking to win his first Madrid title since 2017, Nadal will break Feliciano Lopez's record of 17 appearances at the event when he takes the court on Monday.
The Spaniard will be joined in Madrid by World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, former champion Alexander Zverev, World No. 4 Dominic Thiem, reigning Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas and World No. 7 Andrey Rublev. With main draw action set to begin on Sunday, here's a look at the prospects of the top names in the fray:
Top half: Rafael Nadal set to be tested at every stage, Dominic Thiem has it relatively easy in his comeback tournament
Top-seeded players:  Rafael Nadal,  Dominic Thiem,  Alexander Zverev,  Andrey Rublev
Expected semifinal: Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem
Dark horse: Jannik Sinner
Analysis: Out of the three claycourt Masters events on the calendar, Rafael Nadal has enjoyed the least success in Madrid. And as fate would have it, Nadal finds himself in one of the tougher sections of the draw this time.
The top seed is likely to open his campaign against teen phenom Carlos Alcaraz, in what could be the highlight matchup of the second round. The going only gets trickier from there on, as Nadal could meet the uber-talented Jannik Sinner in the third round.
If Nadal can overcome the Italian's challenge, he will most likely face 2018 champion Alexander Zverev for a place in the last four. Zverev has troubled the Spaniard on clay in the past, but he is not in the best of form coming into this tournament.
The German has been dealing with an elbow niggle ever since his title-winning run at Acapulco, and will meet the winner of the match between Karen Khachanov and Kei Nishikori in his Madrid opener. Zverev has an even tougher third-round match-up if he advances, as he could face either Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz or Djokovic conqueror Dan Evans.
Dominic Thiem makes his return to the tour on the other side of the top half. Thiem skipped the Miami Masters, the Monte Carlo Masters and the Serbia Open due to physical and mental burnout, but he has been handed a relatively straightforward draw in Madrid.
The Austrian is scheduled to take on a qualifier in his opener, before most likely facing 13th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. Thiem will be looking to reassert his claycourt pedigree this week, but he could face the formidable Andrey Rublev in the quarters.
Rublev will be looking to follow up his strong performances at Monte Carlo and Barcelona with another deep run here, and could meet either Tommy Paul or Pedro Martinez in his opening match. He could then have a rematch against Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round, after having beaten the Spaniard in a high-quality three-setter at Monte Carlo.
The winner of the quarterfinal from this section - projected to be between Rublev and Thiem - would have a good chance of clinching their first claycourt Masters 1000 title.
Predicted semifinal: Andrey Rublev vs Jannik Sinner
Bottom half: Can Daniil Medvedev get back to winning ways on clay?
Top-seeded players:  Daniil Medvedev,  Stefanos Tsitsipas,  Diego Schwartzman,  Matteo Berrettini
Expected semifinal: Daniil Medvedev vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
Dark horse: Cristian Garin
Analysis: World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who happen to be two of the most successful Next Gen stars, headline the bottom half of the men's draw. Medvedev and Tsitsipas could face each other in the semifinals at Madrid, continuing their hard-boiled rivalry.
It is pertinent to note, however, that Medvedev is currently on a six-match losing streak on the surface. The Russian's claycourt skills will be severely tested in his opener itself, where he will likely face promising dirtballer Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Medvedev could then face the likes of Reilly Opelka and 16th-seeded Cristian Garin in back-to-back matches. If he can get the better of these opponents, he might have to subdue the in-form Matteo Berrettini in the last eight.
Berrettini recently won the title at the Serbia Open, which means the Italian is certainly not lacking in match practice. Berrettini has a good chance of producing a deep run at the Masters 1000 tournament if he sustains the level that helped him triumph in Belgrade.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, on the other hand, has a more straightforward path to the last four. The Greek could face either Benoit Paire or Nikoloz Basilashvili in his opener, with a possible third-round match against Casper Ruud next.
Ruud dug deep in Monte Carlo to beat the likes of Diego Schwartzman, Fabio Fognini and Pablo Carreno Busta before losing to Rublev in the semifinals. The Norwegian could ask Tsitsipas a few questions if they cross swords in Madrid.
If Tsitsipas is able to navigate his way into the quarterfinals, he will most likely face seventh-seeded Diego Schwartzman. Several other talented players are also placed in this section of the draw, including Denis Shapovalov, Alexander Bublik, Ugo Humbert and Aslan Karatsev.
Predicted semifinal: Stefanos Tstisipas vs Matteo Berrettini
Andrey Rublev vs Stefanos Tsitsipas