Mutua Madrid Open Preview Rafa Nadal’s Moment to Take Down Novak Djokovic


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This year at the Mutua Madrid Open, Rafa Nadal looks like he might just have the momentum to make the ATP tour very interesting with a first win over Novak Djokovic since Roland Garros 2014. The Tennis Review previews the chances in the Spanish Capital of a Nadal on the up and a Djokovic in need of some clay court magic at the Caja Magica. 

So, how did the tennis Gods in charge of the Madrid draw treat Djokovic who suffered a shock upset to Jiri Vesely in Monte Carlo and could really do with a little bit of luck on the road to Roland Garros?

At first, it looked like they had been kind to him. However, now that Nicolas Amalgro, Djokovic’s potential second round opponent, has won in Estoril, they look less so.

Djokovic leads Amalgro 4-0, but did drop a set to him in last year’s Rome round of 32.

Amalgro, match tough and confident after that Estoril win, with the home crowd support, and a former semi-finalist at the event (2010), could cause the world No.1 a few problems.

Roberto Bautista Agut in round three might cause the Serb a couple of headaches, too-the Spaniard took a set from the world No.1 at the US Open last season.

Anything could happen with Djokovic’s projected quarter-final and semi-final opponents, Jo Wilfried-Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka. Both of them have the game to upset Djokovic but whether or not they can bring it on the day is anybody’s guess. (Wawrinka will have an especially tricky time of making his projected last four place in the draw- he could face Nick Kyrgios, recent Estoril semi-finalist, in the second round).

What we will not have to guess is if Djokovic will turn up or not- if he gets to the quarters, his march to the final, looks inevitable. But if any players are going to get in the way of Djokovic’s incredible ATP 1000 run- that second round loss in Monte Carlo was the first time Djokovic had lost before the final of an ATP 1000 event since Shanghai 14 (SF loss to Federer)- it will be the likes of Tsonga or Wawrinka who have the kind of big serving, aggressive games that trouble the world No.1, and could be fatal in the faster conditions of Madrid, (2, 188 ft elevation), conditions which do not suit Djokovic as well as Rome or Monte Carlo.

The resurgent Nadal is the player most likely to be facing Djokovic in the final. The Spaniard has been getting better step by step the last few weeks, and the time feels right for him to get his first win over the Serbian since the 2014 Roland Garros final.

Nadal has won three times in Madrid since 2009, (2010, 2013, 2014), and was runner up in 2010 and 2015.

The draw has been good to him, too with David Goffin scheduled for the last 16. The Belgian is a tricky opponent on clay, but suffered a three set loss to Zverev in Munich, where he was the top seed, and if his confidence was hit in even the slightest way, Nadal will find a way to exploit that.

Watch Nadal training in Madrid in the video below:

Federer was scheduled for the last eight, but that is most likely to be Dominic Thiem now that the Swiss has withdrawn. Thiem has been a tricky opponent for Nadal this season. The Austrian upset Nadal in Buenos Aires  and pushed him to the brink in the first set of their recent Monte Carlo Masters last sixteen match.

If Thiem makes it to the quarters, that would be his best showing at an ATP 1000 since Miami 2015, and a match versus Nadal in Madrid would be a great stage for Thiem to show he has solved what has been his most pressing problem this season- his inability to convert break points in big matches versus the likes of Nadal and Djokovic.

Nadal should, however, prove to be too motivated for Thiem- the Spaniard may have, if his seeded rivals make it through, a couple of pressing issues he needs to deal with in the next two rounds.

First up in the Semis could be Murray who defeated Nadal in the Madrid final last season. That, though, was a very different Nadal, and only a similarly aggressive performance by the Scot is going to cut it.

The kind of performance Djokovic would need to put in if he meets Nadal in the final. The kind the Serb showcased when he defeated Nadal in the 2011 final in straight sets, the only time he has lifted the Madrid trophy.

In 2012, Djokovic was upset by Janko Tipsarevic in the quarters on the now infamous Blue Clay, and in 2013 Grigor Dimitrov defeated him in the Serb’s opening round match as the Serbian struggled with an inspired opponent and an upset-hungry crowd.

Since then, Djokovic has not competed in Madrid, and his participation this season was in question until his early Monte Carlo exit.

The Serb now finds himself on the road to Roland Garros without a clay court ATP 1000 title or any known clay court form, and the prospect of facing a resurgent Nadal ready to prove a point at the clay event the Spaniard has the record for most titles won, and at which his chief rival, Djokovic, is less than comfortable.

A scenario which adds some spice to a tour which a month ago was looking a touch predictable but which now, for us lucky tennis fans, is anything but.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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