Madrid Masters 2018: Rafael Nadal stacks up the records, but Kyle Edmund scores own milestone over Djokovic
Kyle Edmund beats Novak Djokovic in three sets to reach the last 16 of the Madrid Masters
It is the 10th playing of the Mutua Madrid Masters at the architectural triumph of the Caja Magica.
This week is also the 80th birthday of its current Tournament Director, former No1 and four-time Major champion Manolo Santana. And it is a remarkable 17th consecutive year in the main draw of the tournament for Spaniard Feliciano Lopez—who happens to take over as Tournament Director next year.
Lopez turns 37 in September, making him the oldest man in the draw, but the big single-handed leftie with the old-fashioned serve and volley game has never got beyond the quarters of his home tournament. There was, then, a lot of sentimental support for the local man as he made his way through his opener in a draw that could see him face Spain’s most famous son, Rafael Nadal, in the third round. Lopez succeeded against compatriot Pablo Andujar, but against the brilliant clay skills of No13 seed Diego Schwartzman, he was ousted after almost two and a half hours in three tough sets.
Sentimental support, too, for another veteran Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco, also a leftie but with a heavyweight baseline game that had taken him, at his best, to No7 in the world and through Nadal in a memorable five-set thriller at the 2016 Australian Open. Indeed three times Verdasco had got past Nadal, including on Madrid’s clay in 2012—albeit the fast blue iteration of the surface.
Not that the 34-year-old Verdasco, currently ranked at 37, needed to worry about another Nadal showdown—unless both men reached the final, that is—for Verdasco was in the bottom quarter. His first priority was to reach one big milestone, his 500th match-win, and what happier place to do it than in the city of his birth—and in his 16th straight Madrid appearance.
To reach No500, he had to beat Italian Paolo Lorenzi, who was marking his own milestone: The Roman was playing in the main draw in Madrid for the first time at the age of 36.
And 16 years after winning his first tour match, Verdasco did indeed score this notable one in Madrid in straight sets, the sixth Spaniard and only the ninth active player to do so. He told Tennis TV: “I’m super-emotional and super-happy.” However, he ran out of steam against another clay expert, Leonardo Mayer, in Round 2.
Meanwhile, Robin Haase faced a big challenge if he was to reach his 200th match-win in Madrid. He took on one of the most impressive among the rising generation of players to break into the top 20, Hyeon Chung, who has made at least the quarters of his last seven events and the semis of the Australian Open. However, the 31-year-old Dutchman got win No200, before losing to David Goffin in the second round.
One of the form players of the year, the popular Argentine, Juan Martin del Potro was also building on a record-setting season during which he won his first ever Masters. Indeed he put together a 15-match streak with back to back titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells, before losing to John Isner in Miami. This was his first step on clay, yet he was targeting a tour-leading 22nd match-win—and he achieved it by beating world No32 Damir Dzumhur.
Clay is certainly not del Potro’s favourite surface, but the title in Madrid could edge him to a new career-high—No3—more than eight years after he topped out at No4. However his chief problem, as it is for everyone else, will be Nadal, the Argentine’s potential semi-final opponent.
For as has been the case in every clay season, the man who returned to No1 last year after winning his 10th Monte-Carlo Masters, Barcelona 500 and French Open titles—and his fourth clay Madrid Masters—was hitting the same unbeatable form on his beloved clay.
No11 in Monte-Carlo and No11 in Barcelona announced an especially fresh and formidable Nadal who missed the entire North American hard-court swing with injury. He arrived in Madrid on a run of 19 clay wins, and a record 46 straight sets dating back to his 10th French Open title last June. Along the way, he totted up his 400th match-win on clay, and dropped no more than five games in any match in Monaco or Barcelona.
He boasted a 34-5 record at the Caja Magica, too, plus the unwavering, intense support of his home crowd. But he needed to draw on all that support and his unmatched records to stay at No1: Anything short of the title, and Roger Federer would take over.
He played the athletic showman, Gael Monfils, who is ranked a lowly 41 but capable of blistering tennis on his day. Nadal faced a break point in the very first game, but soon cottoned on to Monfils’ drop-shot ploys, and commanded the stage with running down-the-line winners, impressive serving, and some delightful net plays. He served out the first set 6-3, and then stormed through the second, dropping just one point on serve and breaking three times with a sequence of points that are sure to make the highlight reels come the end of this year’s tournament.
So that makes 20 straight clay wins, 48 straight sets, and the likelihood of taking the record run of sets from John McEnroe—49—by the time he reaches the quarters.
But one of the biggest milestones of the day came in the heat of the afternoon on Manolo Santana court, and featured Kyle Edmund, who has risen through the ranks to become the British No1 as Andy Murray’s long absence from hip injury and surgery continued through this year.
But make no mistake, Edmund had earned his spot on the edge of the top 20 with increasingly confident, attacking tennis. He made his first Major semi in Australia, the final in Marrakech—and this Briton does like the clay—and went on to win his first doubles title with Cameron Norrie in Estoril.
In a tough Madrid draw, he first beat Daniil Medvedev, 6-4, 6-0, then rose to the challenge of two-time champion Djokovic with calm but aggressive tennis.
Djokovic, of course, has been working his way back from his extended injury absence following Wimbledon last year—hence his No12 ranking. Since his Australian Open return, he had lacked match-sharpness and stamina: hardly surprising given that he had played only 10 matches, and won just five of them.
Now, though, he was back with his old coaching team, and looking happy in the Spanish capital. His difficult opener against Kei Nishikori showed flashes of the old Djokovic brilliance, a 7-5, 6-4 win, and although Edmund broke the Serb in the opening game of the match, few were surprised that Djokovic immediately pegged him back.
However, Djokovic was having trouble serving into the sun, and Edmund broke again in the fifth, and again with a backhand winner, 6-3.
However, the former No1 and 30-time Masters champion turned on the heat in the second set, producing clinical baseline tennis and pinpoint serving. He broke twice and levelled the match, 6-2.
When Edmund faced 0-40 in the fifth game of the third, forced into repeated errors on the backhand wing, this again looked like the familiar Djokovic. But here was a different Edmund from the one that the Serb had beaten three times in relatively easy order.
The Briton produced some cracking serves to hold off the assault, and his vastly improved backhand withstood a barrage from Djokovic. A couple of errors down that wing were followed by a stunning winner for break point, and Edmund went 5-3. He served out the victory to love in style, 6-3, with 30 winners to Djokovic’s 11, and the chance to break inside the top 20 come next week.
Edmund next faces Goffin, in a clay test of the highest order—except, that is, for Nadal. But as Djokovic said afterwards: “Definitely Kyle is playing the best tennis of his life.”