Madrid Masters 2016: Del Potro and Coric impress as Nadal makes it 11 in a row
Juan Martin del Potro, Borna Coric and Rafael Nadal are among the winners on Tuesday at the Madrid Masters
A top-quality draw for the Mutua Madrid Open promised every champion and runner-up since this Masters moved to the spring clay in 2009: The entire top 10, 18 of the top 20, and a clutch of men who had been absent for much of the season with injury.
After winning just one match in Miami, David Ferrer had not played another tournament until now. Kevin Anderson had played just four matches, retiring in two of them—at the Australian Open and then in Delray Beach. The former won his opener, the latter did not.
Juan Martin del Potro had played just four events and 11 matches, and appeared in Madrid with a protected ranking. And No3 seed, Roger Federer, one of those previous champions, was hoping to gain some match toughness and ranking points after playing only his third event of the year in Monte-Carlo last month.
But Federer, one of the eight seeds straight into the second round, would play not a match, as a back injury forced him to withdraw, and with it the chance of a quarter-final face-off against multiple home champion Rafael Nadal, in what would have been their first clay meeting since Rome 2013.
There were, however, plenty more form players in peak fitness who would spend their first Tuesday in Madrid trying to fill the last second-round places—young blood eager to try their chances against big names and former champions.
Nick Kyrgios, a semi-finalist in Estoril, dispatched Guido Pella to set up a highly anticipated meeting with French Open champion and No4 seed Stan Wawrinka.
Lucas Pouille, a finalist in Bucharest, took out No12 seed David Goffin to leave himself just one win—against Sam Querrey—from taking on the resurgent Nadal, who extended his winning run to 11 matches in formidable style over Andrey Kuznetsov.
Two of last weekend’s finalists, Grigor Dimitrov in Istanbul and Pablo Carreno Busta in Estoril, faced off for a third time. Dimitrov won on both previous occasions, including Madrid in the first round two years ago. This time, Spanish wild card Carreno Busta thrilled his home crowd with an impressive straight sets win, 7-6, 6-3. His reward will be 2008 finalist and No16 seed Gilles Simon.
Jack Sock, a finalist in Houston, beat Benoit Paire to set up a second-round match not against Munich finalist Dominic Thiem, who is one of a select band of players to win two titles this year, but del Potro after the big Argentine scored his highest-ranking victory since 2013.
It was a hugely emotional moment for del Potro after years managing wrist injuries and consequent surgeries. This felt like a significant step forward, as he explained after his demanding 7-6, 6-3, hour-and-three-quarter win over the No14 seed.
“It’s quite difficult because I was fighting one of the best opponents that I can have. I knew how well I was playing and my condition these days, and I am missing a lot of what I need to be at the highest level, the level I want to be, because I’ve been through very difficult things in the past years.
“Being in a competition like this, for me, is a lot of merit. If I’m able to win matches, even better, even more emotional. That’s why sometimes it’s difficult to handle the emotions. But I think that today I have a lot of joy. I’m very happy. It’s because some great things are happening to me right now. I wasn’t crying because I had to leave or because my wrist was hurting or anything. I was just very happy about it.”
At the other end of the draw, two over-30 clay champions competed for a second-round spot and the chance to play Monte-Carlo finalist, Gael Monfils.
Philipp Kohlschreiber was champion in Munich just two days ago, and made a semi run in Barcelona, while back in February, Pablo Cuevas won back-to-back clay titles in Brazil, and they arrived at their first meeting in six years separated by just two places in the rankings, 25 and 27 respectively.
It would prove to be as close as their rankings and clay form suggested, as they split the first two sets 6-3 apiece, and went to a tie-break in the third. The slightly younger, slightly fresher man from Uruguay took a two point advantage from the start, 2-0, and maintained it to edge the match 7-5 after almost two hours of single-handed tennis.
This remains, though, perhaps the toughest eighth of the draw: Not only does the world No27 face No13 seed Monfils next, but the third round could bring Wawrinka and the quarter-final either No6 Kei Nishikori or No10 Richard Gasquet, with Bucharest champion Fernando Verdasco also in the mix. And all that before a possible semi-final against world No1 Novak Djokovic.
But perhaps the hardest first days were faced by the youngest man in the draw, 19-year-old Borna Coric, finalist in Marrakech at the start of April. First, could he beat the Estoril champion Nicolas Almagro? If he could, he would set up a first meeting with a man who has been full of praise for the potential of the young Croat, Djokovic.
First Almagro: the 30-year-old Spaniard had slumped to a ranking of 174 exactly a year ago after foot surgery cut a swathe through his schedule, but he arrived in Madrid having broken back into the top 50 for the first time since. He beat two top-10 players in the Buenos Aires in February to reach the final, and after a few early exits since, regained his form on Estoril’s clay.
But Coric played near flawless. aggressive tennis from the very start, and quickly took advantage of small signs of fatigue in the Spaniard’s game. He broke twice to lead 5-2 and served out the first set in just 25 minutes having made only one unforced error and dropping just one point on serve: 6-2.
The second set unfolded in similar fashion: Coric broke in the third game and held to love for 3-1. He had by this stage won 31 of the 39 baseline points, and pressed on again to break in the fifth game. A love service game completed the victory in 62 minutes, 6-2, and his stats were outstanding: 16 winners to five errors, with 78 percent of first serves in to play.
Not a bad Madrid debut for the teenager. And not a bad reward for his efforts—though few will give him much of a chance when he steps into the Manola Santana arena tomorrow afternoon. Djokovic has lost just two of his 30 matches this year, and has won three of the season’s biggest titles among his four thus far.