Madrid Masters 2011: Seeds vanish in Madrid’s magic box
Half of the 16 seeds have been magicked away before the top four men have even opened their accounts
There has been a nice symmetry to the disappearance of eight of the top 16 men in the Madrid Masters draw, as though this magical venue -the Caja Magica -has waved its wand in equal measure across the quarters.
The centre of Rafael Nadal’s section lost Andy Roddick in the first match since his opening round loss at the Miami Masters. Even for a man who is far from happy on the red dirt, this was a hard loss by the No12 seed to the Italian qualifier, and world No160, Flavio Cipolla.
The next seed to go was No13 Mikhail Youzhny, whose misfortune it was to meet Juan MartÃƒÂn del Potro in the opening round.
Del Potro continues to impress on his fight back up the rankings after an absence of almost a year following wrist surgery. Already this season, he has played more matches than any of the top six men and has won two titles, the most recent on the clay of Estoril last week.
Indeed, the Argentine had just two days between that win and taking on the craft and intelligence of Youzhny.
Del Potro won the first set with ease, but looked down and out when he tweaked his hip in the second and required extended on-court treatment. That set was lost but, in the third, he unleashed his trademark serve and vicious forehand to batter the Russian into submission.
It remains to be seen whether Del Potro’s hip will recover enough to cope with Marin Cilic followed by the possibility of revenge over Nadal for his loss in the Indian Wells semis. However, the Argentine looks set to break back into the top 10 by the end of the year: He is already at 32 and rising like hot geyser.
Roger Federer’s quarter has also lost its middle two seeds. The top 10 debutant, Nicolas Almagro, who had won two clay titles this year, met a tough opening opponent in No18 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and lost in just 67 minutes.
Fernando Verdasco, despite a final finish in Estoril on Sunday, continues to struggle with his form. The more he loses, the more his confidence and focus seem to suffer -a worrying return to the Verdasco of a couple of years back -and he looked fit to burst as the nimble and quick Yen-Hsun Lu ran him ragged.
Verdasco hammered the balls, smashed his racket, lost his cool and lost the match, 7-6 7-5.
Verdasco was one of a dozen Spaniards in their home Masters tournament: a quality and depth unparalleled by any other country. But he proved to be the sixth of the dozen to fall before the third round -and three more are yet to negotiate that barrier.
With Feliciano Lopez on a 0-7 losing record to Federer and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on a 0-4 losing run to Novak Djokovic, their prospects of joining Nadal in the fight for a quarter-final place look remote.
Andy Murray’s quarter lost three key players in the first round, notably Nikolay Davydenko, who won his 21st title in Munich on Sunday. The two-day turn-around proved too much, and the Russian went down in straight sets to Spanish wild card Marcel Granollers.
Davydenko’s final opponent in Munich, Florian Mayer, bounced back rather better, taking out No16 Viktor Troicki. Also out of this segment is Gael Monfils, who negotiated his first match against the difficult Ivo Karlovic, but had to retire injured against Juan Monaco.
Murray’s opening match will be against Gilles Simon who, as expected, had a tough battle against Ivan Ljubicic, taking the win in two hours, 7-5 7-6.
Murray was a convincing winner over Simon when they played three weeks back in Monte Carlo and, with his elbow back in good shape after a couple of weeks rest, Murray will be confident of repeating the win.
He then has little to concern him until a possible quarter-final against Tomas Berdych, who opens his account, along with Murray, on Arantxa Sanchez Vicario on Wednesday.
And so to the last quarter, featuring Djokovic fresh from his 23rd career title, his fifth of the year, his 29th straight match-win. He has seen the potential threats of Stan Wawrinka and Mardy Fish -who only a fortnight ago broke into the top 10 for the first time in his career -fall at their first hurdles, and he very nearly saw his potential quarter-final opponent, David Ferrer, wiped from his path as well.
Fresh from final finishes in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and with a 13-2 win-loss record on clay, No6 Ferrer is one of the strongest contenders on this surface. But the Madrid courts are the fastest of the clay season and it was quickly clear that he was struggling to adjust his speed and length against the up-and-coming Frenchman, Adrian Mannarino.
The 22-year-old qualifier’s fast and unconventional brand of tennis posed some challenging questions, and Ferrer quickly went down a break in the opening set. He then reined in his unforced errors, started to read his opponent better and fought back to 7-5.
It looked as though the momentum was now solidly with the Spaniard, but the flair of the slight Frenchman put Ferrer on the back foot. The left-handed Mannarino has a short backswing, takes the ball early and on the rise, and powers the ball low, flat and deep.
His pin-point timing generates deceptive speed for a man of his build and, in a thrilling demonstration of crisp, shot making, great touch and constant accuracy, he ripped through the second set 6-0.
But two things conspired to turn the third set around. This was Mannarino’s fourth match in as many days -and Ferrer is as fit and resilient as they come. The Spaniard put his head down, ran harder, found some extra aggression and took control -though not until he had fought off four break points on his second service game -to win his own bagel, 6-0.
So Ferrer survived, and this tough match will have helped get his eye in for Madrid’s quick conditions.
Mannarino, for his part, has laid down a marker. His game sparkled with originality and also the promise that further improvement can be made -his serve is an example. So remember his name, especially when the hard courts -or maybe even better, the grass -come around.