Madrid Masters 2014: Nadal assured of No1 after Djokovic withdraws
Novak Djokovic pulls out of this week's Madrid Masters, saying his right wrist injury has "flared up again"
As Rafael Nadal prepared to take to the red clay of Madrid’s magnificent Magic Box he knew that he would not just have to defend his title but also, despite a 2,000 point lead over his closest rival, his No1 ranking. Should he fail to reach the quarter-finals and No2 Novak Djokovic win the title, the top spot would change hands.
But on the day that first-round action began in Madrid, Djokovic announced his withdrawal from the tournament to continue the rehabilitation of a wrist injury that hit him in the early stages of the Monte Carlo Masters almost three weeks ago.
I did everything possible in order to play in Madrid but unfortunately my right arm injury has flared up again
The Serb, who was defending his title in the Principality, played his semi-final against Roger Federer with a heavily strapped right arm and, after a tightly contested first set, lost the match, 7-5, 6-2.
He afterwards announced that an MRI scan showed no major injury, and the news was positive for Madrid and beyond:
“Fortunately, the situation with the injury is better than it first seemed. Doctors assured me that I will be ready for Madrid, then Rome and Roland Garros, just as it has been planned. However, I need to continue with the recovery process and full medical treatments. It means I will have to take a short break in order to recover as soon as possible.”
But in announcing his withdrawal from the tournament, he explained that the situation had changed for the worse: “I am very sorry for the Madrid tournament and all the Spanish fans to have to pull out of the Mutua Madrid Open. I did everything possible in order to play in Madrid, which is one of the biggest events of the year, but unfortunately my right arm injury has flared up again.
“Now I will take some time to recover and heal my injury, hoping I will be ready for Rome. I look forward to returning to Madrid next year.”
Djokovic lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the Madrid second round last year so, with only has only 10 points to defend compared with Nadal’s 1000 points, he had had the chance to close down the 2,000 or so points gap over his rival.
Nadal claimed the top spot from Djokovic last October after returning to the tour in February to put together one of his finest ever seasons. From the start of Sao Paulo until the final of Beijing at the start of October, the Spaniard lost only two matches. The first was to Djokovic in the Monte Carlo final and the other was a shock defeat in his opening match at Wimbledon.
However it was no surprise that, with 10 titles from 14 finals—including two Grand Slams and five Masters—Nadal soared from No5 to No1, where he has held his place ever since.
Since losing the No1 spot to Nadal, Djokovic himself had put together a 31-3 match run, reeling off four consecutive Masters titles as well as the year-end World Tour Finals in London.
Between Nadal’s win in Monte Carlo in 2010 until the victory of Stan Wawrinka n at the same tournament this year, only one of the total of 13 clay-court Masters had gone to anyone aside from Nadal and Djokovic—Federer won Madrid in 2012—and the two were seeded to reunite in a clay Masters final once again, appropriately enough with the No1 ranking on the line.
Now Wawrinka, the only player to win three titles this year, is the top-ranked player in the bottom half of the draw, with his most dangerous trip-wire to the final being a possible quarter-final against Kei Nishikori, who won the Barcelona title last week.
The quarter vacated by Djokovic is topped by No5 David Ferrer, but he faces a daunting line-up that includes John Isner in the third round and then the survivor from a clutch of form players—Ernests Gulbis, Marin Cilic, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Fabio Fognini.
Nadal’s route to the final is not an easy one, though he continues to be the favourite to retain the title in his home Masters event, despite a couple of unexpected losses on clay this season to Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro.
The top seed opens against the winner of Jurgen Melzer and Juan Monaco and is seeded to meet Tommy Haas in the third round. His quarter-final, though, brings the prospect of a particularly intriguing match.
Dimitrov has lost his four previous meetings with Nadal but all of them have been in long, intense and closely contested matches, most recently a four-setter in the Australian Open quarters. Dimitrov has just won the Bucharest title and is undoubtedly on an upward trajectory in form and confidence.
Assuming Nadal negotiates Dimitrov or the alternative big seed, Tomas Berdych, he is likely to face the winner between Andy Murray and Roger Federer—though the Swiss is yet to arrive in Madrid as his wife awaits the imminent arrival of their third child.
The tournament will hope their No4 seed and three-time champion does not also become a late withdrawal, especially with world No7 Juan Martin del Potro and No11 Richard Gasquet also missing with injury.
Federer is scheduled to play his first match against the winner of Frenchmen Gilles Simon and Benoit Paire. He is seeded in the third round to meet Tommy Robredo, who beat him in last year’s US Open, and either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Andy Murray in the quarters.
Playing in his first clay tournament of 2014 aside from Davis Cup duty, Murray faces a tough opener against Almagro, who upset Nadal last week in Barcelona, before running the gauntlet of Tsonga, Federer, Nadal and Wawrinka.
Djokovic may have faced the toughest draw in the early rounds, but arguably it is Murray who has the run from hell if all the big guns are firing on target.