Madrid Open Review How Did Four Tennis Stories Play Out?

Nadal Thiem

Photo courtesy of fanragsports.com

The Madrid Open gave tennis fans four stories to follow this season featuring Rafa Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray– here is how those stories played out.

Nadal the heavy favorite in the event he is least likely to win

If you are going to beat Rafa Nadal on Clay, Madrid is the place to do it, the Spaniard more vulnerable in the faster conditions, and the fourth seed’s draw was lined up with potential spoilers- Fabio Fognini in round 2, Nick Kyrgios in round 3, David Goffin in the quarters, Novak Djokovic in the semis, and Dominic Thiem, the most in-form player in the top half, in the final.

Draws do not often play out as scheduled, or predicted, but this one did, and Nadal rose to the challenge, arguably his biggest one, draw wise, this season. The Spaniard needed close to three hours to see off Fognini in three sets, and handled Kyrgios, Goffin, Djokovic, and Thiem all in straights on his way to his 15th consecutive win, his third title in a row, a record 5th Madrid title, his 52nd Clay court title overall, (another record), and equaling Djokovic for the record of most ATP 1000 titles with 30.

The most historic record of them all is still to come- La Decima Part three at Roland Garros- and Nadal’s charge through a difficult draw in Madrid makes him even more of the heavy favorite to achieve that milestone with only a red-lining Dominic Thiem executing pitch perfect controlled aggression or his own body compromised by a grueling clay campaign looking likely to get the better of him.

Thiem Time

Tournament by tournament in the 2017 Clay court season, Thiem has stepped up his game – last sixteen in Monte Carlo, final in Barcelona, final in Madrid- and while Madrid was not the breakthrough many hoped for, his final appearance is his best result at the top of men’s tennis and helped the youngest member of the ATP top ten climb back up his career high No.7 ranking.

Thiem beat Jared Donaldson in round two, Grigor Dimitrov in a third set breaker in round three, avenged his Miami defeat to Borna Coric in the last eight, and defeated one of the tour’s strongest clay courters Pablo Cuevas in the semis in straights before taking Rafa Nadal to a first set tiebreaker in the final which he narrowly lost 8-10 before losing a closely contested second set 4-6.

Performing well in big finals is a positive sign that Thiem has what it takes to take over once Nadal and his fellow ATP 1000 and Slam haulers hang up their rackets, and the more he takes his chances in these kinds of draws, beating the players he should beat and pushing those he might not be quite ready to yet defeat, the closer Thiem will get to finally breaking through. As for now, the door is ajar, and the fight the Austrian put up for 2 hours and 17 minutes in Madrid versus Nadal suggests that while it may not exactly be Thiem time, the countdown has certainly begun.

Journey to the Island Djokovic 

Djokovic fired his whole coaching team before the Madrid Open and in his first outing with just his guru Pepe Imaz and brother Marco supporting him courtside, the Serbian achieved his best finish in the four big events (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Madrid) he has contested this season, going all the way to the semis.

The second seed was helped a little into the last four by the withdrawal of Kei Nishikori from their last eight match, but that also hindered Djokovic a little when it came to progressing further- he needed match practice, and a victory over Nishikori, achievable considering the match up and Nishikori’s tendency to under-perform in those types of matches, might have spurred him on to taking Nadal to three, maybe even capitalizing on the nerves Nadal showed serving out for the match.

That late second set resistance in Madrid versus Nadal showed us that while externally Djokovic’s camp might have been culled, internally, the fighting spirit which got him to where he was back at Roland Garros ’16 in the first place is still burning, just waiting to be stirred back to life.

djokovic nadal

Photo courtesy of www.dailynayadiganta.com

Murray and his first ATP 1000 title of the season

Murray won one match in Madrid, a straight setter over wild card Marius Copil before Borna Coric took him down 6-3, 6-3 in the last 16. Murray expressed concern over the loss at arguably his best clay court event, a loss in which in his own words he did very little to change his losing strategy until it was far too late.

Murray’s honest appraisal of his performance is encouraging with Rome coming up, the place where he gave us the first sign he was ready to mount a serious challenge to Djokovic for the world No.1 ranking. A year on, while Murray’s place at the top of the rankings looks safe for the near future, Rafa Nadal is leading the race to London by some way and if the Spaniard keeps gaining points in Rome and Roland Garros and Murray keeps losing them, Murray may find himself in Djokovic’s shoes last Autumn, plummeting from the top while an old rival shoots past him.

If Murray can take stock and made effective changes to his current game, and start playing like the current world No.1 and not just sitting by as the year-round one, tennis will have a narrative it has yet to have from the Big Four- Nadal and Murray engaged in a battle for No.1, another twist in tennis’ blockbuster tale which, like its protagonists on their best days, never quits running.

 

The Tennis Review

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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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