Of course, Novak Djokovic, world No1 and twice the champion in Madrid since it moved to clay in 2009, topped the pile. And of course, world No2 Rafael Nadal, four times the winner on clay at his home Masters, was at the other end of the 56-man draw. But where would world No4 and two-time champion Roger Federer fall? The answer was—in the Djokovic half.
… but what hope of a first ever meeting in Madrid? In 47 previous matches, they have played one another in every Masters but this one. In the Spanish capital, indeed, they have not even been in the same draw since 2013.
In the event, it will take a considerable effort from both men if they are to complete the Masters set.
In the Djokovic quarter, there is two-time Madrid semi-finalist, Juan Martin del Potro, still No8 in the world despite playing just three matches in one tournament since cracking his patella at the Shanghai Masters last October. Here too are unseeded dangers such as Grigor Dimitrov, Diego Schwartzman, though Nick Kyrgios made a quick exit to Jan-Lennard Stuff in his opener.
In Federer’s quarter, it is 2019’s debut Masters champion Dominic Thiem, who beat the Swiss to the Indian Wells title and then 11-time champion Nadal en route to the Barcelona title. The Austrian has also been runner-up in Madrid for the last two years.
Thiem, though, may have to fend off another Masters debutant, Monte-Carlo champion Fabio Fognini—also a winner over Nadal—for a quarter-final showdown. And that is assuming Federer makes it to the quarters via Rotterdam champion Gael Monfils, who has beaten the Swiss in two of their last three meetings, including on the clay of Monte-Carlo.
Stir in unseeded Richard Gasquet, David Goffin, Kyle Edmund and Marton Fucsovics, and Federer’s quarter is as stacked as they come.
However, as all the top players tell the media ad infinitum, the draw in a Masters tournament is always tough from top to bottom, from start to finish.
Nadal’s biggest scheduled seed is No3 seed Alexander Zverev, defending Madrid champion and winner of the Rome Masters in 2017, plus former finalist Kei Nishikori. Here too is one of the biggest risers in the last 12 months: Nikoloz Basilashvili is up from 79 to become No14 seed this week.
But it is perhaps among the young generation that Nadal will find his toughest challenges. Of course, Zverev is only 22, but Nadal’s first match will bring either No20-ranked 20-year-old Denis Shapovalov or No30 Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is just 18 years old.
The former made the Madrid semis last year, and beat Nadal in the Rogers Cup the year before. Fellow Canadian Auger-Aliassime has risen from outside the top 100 since reaching the final of the Rio Open around 10 weeks ago, and went on a stunning run to the semis of the Miami Open in March.
Look ahead to the quarter-finals, and Nadal may find the in-form Daniil Medvedev—runner-up in Barcelona and semi-finalist in Monte-Carlo—or current Estoril finalist Guido Pella, or former world No3 and Madrid finalist Stan Wawrinka.
And Zverev will have his own work cut out to make the quarters, with unseeded—and retiring—David Ferrer or the formidable Roberto Bautista Agut to open, then Alex de Minaur, Lucas Pouille, or the 22-year-old No13 seed Borna Coric to negotiate.
And all that before the youngest player in the top 20, the charismatic No8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, currently in the final in Estoril.
· First and foremost, Federer has not played a match on clay since his aborted return to the tour after knee surgery in 2016, a third-round loss in Rome. He turns 38 in three months’ time, and has a draw replete with clay achievers. However, until back and knee injuries intruded, Madrid was a happy hunting ground for Federer, both indoors and then on clay: 18-4 since 2009.
· In contrast, the supreme clay master Nadal has never missed Madrid, and only three times in a 12-year run has he fallen short of the finals, winning four times on the red clay. Yet his tally of 57 clay titles has stalled so far this summer, with semi losses to Fognini and Thiem in his Monte-Carlo and Barcelona strongholds. Will he bounce back this week?
· Djokovic has won eight clay Masters titles, but while his performances in Rome have remained at an extraordinary level since his first quarter-final in 2007, Madrid’s results have seesawed. And since winning the Australian Open this January, he has gone 5-3 in the three Masters. If he can get through early rounds, his confidence and form should improve, but that may depend on others in his quarter…
· Del Potro is an entirely unknown quantity in this his second tournament since last October, his first since February. No9 seed Marin Cilic has also contended with knee problem and is 4-6 for the year. Dimitrov’s results have disappointed: his last final was in Rotterdam 18 months ago, and he is 9-5 this season.
· In the bottom half, Zverev has also been struggling to regain the form that notched up four titles—including Madrid—last year, and arrives with just four match-wins from his last six tournaments. Wawrinka has blown hot and cold during his return from double knee surgery, and has not pushed on from his strong final run in Rotterdam. And Karen Khachanov, who ended 2018 with a Masters title and a ranking of 11, has made seven opening-round exits this year.
· So will it be new names who make the breakthrough this week, a clutch of players on a rising wave of form? Colleagues will keep tabs on Dusan Lajovic (finalist in Monte-Carlo), Pella (QF in Barcelona and Monte-Carlo and winner in Sao Paulo), and Laslo Djere (winner in Rio, SFs in Sao Paulo and Budapest), as well as old campaigners Philipp Kohlschreiber, Bautista Agut, and of course David Ferrer—three of almost 20 over-30s in the draw.
· 17 of the top 20 are in the draw, with the top four seeds all former champions.
· Nadal is aiming for his 50th match-win in the tournament; 57 of his 80 titles have come on clay.
· Djokovic enters Madrid as No1 for the fourth time, and will reach 250 weeks at the top during the tournament.
· Pella leads the tour with 19 victories on clay this year, Medvedev has the most overall wins this year, 25.
· Zverev did not drop his serve en route to the title last year, and faced only one break point.
· Federer has the most match-wins on clay, 214, among active players who are not Spanish, ie Nadal, Ferrer, Tommy Robredo, and Fernando Verdasco
· Madrid will be the final tournament of Ferrer: He has won 27 titles, reached No3 in the rankings, won the Paris Masters and made six more Masters finals plus the final of Roland Garros.
· Feliciano Lopez is tournament director in Madrid for the first time, having played every edition of the tournament since 2002.
· Only two players have lifted multiple trophies so far this year: Federer and Thiem with two apiece. Tsitsipas could join them if he wins in Estoril.
Shapovalov vs Augur Aliassime—winner to play Nadal
Medvedev vs Pella—winner could play Wawrinka
Ferrer vs Bautista Agut—winner to play Zverev
Lajovic vs Djere—winner to play del Potro
Juan Ignacio Londero (Cordoba)
Marco Cecchinato (Buenos Aires)
Laslo Djere (Rio)
Guido Pella (Sao Paulo)
[Bautista Agut is in Munich final]
[Tsitsipas is in Estoril final]
No6 Kevin Anderson, No9 John Isner, No16 Milos Raonic,
Previous [clay era] champions in draw: Nadal (4), Djokovic (2), Federer (2), Zverev (1 and defending)
Previous finalists: Nadal (3), Thiem (2), Federer (1), Nishikori (1), Wawrinka (1)
Potential quarter-finals, top half:
Djokovic vs del Potro
Other seeds: Cecchinato, Cilic;
Also here: Dimitrov, Schwartzman, Djere
Federer vs Thiem
Other seeds: Monfils, Fognini
Also here: Gasquet, Goffin, Fucsovics, Edmund, Pablo Carreno Busta
Potential quarter-finals, bottom half:
Zverev vs Tsitsipas
Other seeds: Khachanov, Coric
Also here: Ferrer, Bautista Agut, Jaume Munar, Lucas Pouille
Nadal vs Nishikori
Other seeds: Medvedev, Basilashvili
Also here: Gilles Simon, Wawrinka, Pella, Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov
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