After winning a record-extending 12th title in Barcelona, Rafael Nadal is set to continue his clay season at the Madrid Masters. The Spaniard will be vying to tie Novak Djokovic's all-time record of 36 Masters 1000 titles in the Spanish capital this week.
Prior to the start of the tournament, World No. 12 and local favorite Pablo Carreno Busta spoke about Rafael Nadal's prospects in this edition of the Madrid Masters. Carreno Busta claimed that even though Nadal may not have been at his best level this year, especially due to the extended break he took after the Australian Open, he is still the best claycourter in the history of the game.
"Although he is not at his best level, because it has been very, very high and it is not easy to maintain or recover it, because he had not played since Australia, Rafa, especially on clay, is the best player there is right now and there has been in tennis history," Carreno Busta said.
Carreno Busta's own record against Nadal doesn't make for pretty reading. The 30-year-old has lost all eight of his previous encounters with Nadal, five of which were on clay - including the semifinal in Barcelona last week.
Carreno Busta believes it is very difficult to match up to the 20-time Slam champion on clay, and he asserted that Nadal is the favorite for every claycourt event he enters.
"It is very difficult to play against him," Carreno Busta added. "You must be very clear about the weapons and (play) a very round match to be able to hurt him and hope that he is not at his best level. He's a favorite for all clay-court tournaments. He is always counted for the title."
Rafael Nadal's record at the Madrid Masters is not as good as it is at the other claycourt Masters
Rafael Nadal is indisputably the 'King of Clay'. The Spaniard has won 13 French Opens and 25 Masters 1000 titles on the surface, and he has also had unbeaten seasons on clay on two separate occasions - 2006 and 2010.
However, Rafael Nadal has historically had the most difficult time finding success in Madrid. Although he is a five-time champion at the Mutua Madrid Open, the high altitude and weather conditions are far from suited to his style of play.
Nadal last won the tournament in 2017, but then lost at the quarterfinal stage in 2018 (against Dominic Thiem) and the semfiinal stage in 2019 (against Stefanos Tsitsipas).
After his triumphant run in Barcelona, Nadal comes into Madrid as the World No. 2 and top seed. His path to the final may have a few complicated matchups, against the likes of Jannik Sinner, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem (or Andrey Rublev). He could also set up a repeat of the Barcelona final against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the summit clash this week.
Given his legendary abilities on clay and his recent confidence-bossting run in Barcelona, Rafael Nadal remains the favorite in Madrid. But this event is more open than any other claycourt Masters of the year, considering the Spaniard's past record here.