Madrid Open Preview and Prediction: Can anyone stop Rafa in Spain?

RealSport preview the second clay court Masters, where Nadal is the heavy favourite going into the tournament.

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(Photo credit: REUTERS/Albert Gea)

With the clay court season now in full swing, a familiar pattern looks to be emerging once again. That is to use the word pattern a little loosely. Trail of destruction might perhaps be more apt as Nadal has once again conquered all in his path on a clay court. But with some of the Tour’s heavy hitters arriving in Europe to contest his mastery, a thrilling week of tennis should await in the Spanish capital as the Madrid Open gets underway.

Who’s playing?

The field in the Spanish capital is led by the nation’s most successful male player and current world #1 Rafael Nadal. Fresh from defending his titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, without dropping a set, the Spaniard will be confident that he can claim title number seven in Madrid. He will also once again have the extra-motivation of knowing that if he fails to do so, he will surrender his position atop the rankings to Roger Federer. But the way Nadal has been playing of late, the Swiss won’t be counting on that.

Joining Nadal in the Spanish capital is Novak Djokovic, himself a two-time champion in Madrid, most recently in 2016. He won then whilst on a seemingly unstoppable wave of dominance, that was to carry him to the Roland Garros crown shortly after. But since then it has been a painful fall from grace for the Serbian star as injuries, and at times a loss of motivation, have seen him fall from the top ten and from title contention at the biggest events. Will it be in Madrid that he the rekindles the flame?

Juan Martin del Potro, who emerged as the form player after the Australian Open, is beginning his clay court season in Madrid. The Argentine won back-to-back titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells, with the latter his first Masters and biggest title since his lone Major win in New York nine years ago. He has clay court pedigree as well, having twice made the semifinals at Roland Garros. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ looked to be in fine form, and if anyone can challenge the great Nadal, then surely it is him.

Second seed Alexander Zverev will be eager to once again make his mark in Madrid after reaching the quarterfinals last year on his debut. The German may find himself a little fatigued as he will compete for the Bavarian International title on Sunday in Munich, leaving him little turn around. But Zverev has once again started to win matches, and at his young age, that is surely more important than potential tiredness. Another good run would be far from a surprise.

With five wins to his name on the clay this season, Grigor Dimitrov has already gone one better this season than he managed last year. The world #5 may not perhaps be a title threat, but he has, it would appear, rediscovered his touch on the clay and could pick up a few more wins this week. Dominic Thiem, seeded fifth, will also be looking for a big week after two heavy defeats in his last two outings. With his position as the second best clay courter in the game under threat, a deep run would do the Austrian no harm at all.

Sixth seeded Kevin Anderson began his clay court season with a defeat to Tsitsipas in Estoril, but the Greek is in fine form. Expect the South African to get the wins column moving this week. Isner split the spoils of the Sunshine Double with del Potro after claiming the title in Miami. The big American is a better clay court than many give him credit for and could be a threat this week, though he has never been past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Belgium’s David Goffin, a fine clay courter himself, rounds out the top eight seeds.

First round matches to watch

Though most of the big names will not take to the court until later in the week, there are still some intriguing first round clashes. The pick of the bunch sees Novak Djokovic take on Kei Nishikori, who recently made the final in Monte Carlo. Both are trying to re-establish themselves on Tour, and likely would not have wanted such a stern test so early on, particularly Djokovic. The Japanese will be a heavy favourite going into this one, despite being unseeded. But it will be interesting to see what sort of level Djokovic is able to summon.

Pablo Carreno Busta, the ninth seed, also faces an early challenge in the shape of Borna Coric. The Croatian was excellent during the Sunshine Double, and whilst his form hasn’t quite hit those heights yet on the clay, he has continued to play well. Carreno Busta has found some form himself, having made the semifinals at his last three tournaments. But he will surely feel that it is time to start converting that good form into more tangible success.

Prediction

The draw in Madrid is more stocked with talent than it was in Monte Carlo, the only non-compulsory Masters 1000 of the season. But even with the likes of del Potro around, it still seems almost impossible to envisage anyone but Rafael Nadal lifting the trophy at the end of the week. The Spaniard has been untouchable so far during the European clay court swing, and in his home country, he may prove even harder to stop.

Who do you think will lift the title in Madrid? Let us know in the comments below!

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