Get the popcorn ready! Two-time former champion Novak Djokovic, who is looking to return to top form, is set to face in-form Kei Nishikori in a blockbuster first-round match-up at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Djokovic, reunited with his long-time coach Marian Vajda for the clay-court swing, will have to be immediately match-sharp at the Caja Mágica when he meets Nishikori, the recent Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters finalist (l. to Nadal). Djokovic, leads Nishikori 11-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, but their last red dirt meeting went to three sets at the 2016 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, which Djokovic won 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) for a place in the final. Nishikori has reached the Madrid quarter-finals (or better) in each of the past five years, including a 2014 runner-up finish.
Tenth seed Djokovic, who captured the 2011 and 2016 Madrid titles, and Nishikori have been drawn in the bottom half. The winner could potentially meet eighth seed David Goffin in the third round and third seed Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals. After a first-round bye, Goffin will meet Robin Haase (on 199 match wins) or Hyeon Chung, who is through to this week’s BMW Open by FWU semi-finals. Dimitrov will challenge Milos Raonic or a qualifier in his first match. World No. 5 Dimitrov has won three of his four matches against Raonic, including a 7-6(7), 6-2 victory at the Brisbane International presented by Suncorp.
In another tasty first-round clash, 2012 runner-up and No. 14 seed Tomas Berdych squares off against Richard Gasquet, who returned to form last month in Monte-Carlo with a quarter-final run (l. to Zverev 7-5 in the third set). Berdych leads Gasquet 9-7 in their series. Fernando Verdasco, a two-time quarter-finalist, will go for the 500th match win of his career against Paolo Lorenzi.
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In the top half of the draw, Dominic Thiem and Juan Martin del Potro could potentially be roadblocks in Rafael Nadal’s attempt to clinch a sixth title in Madrid, which will help him to retain No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. The Spanish superstar, who has reached the Madrid final on nine previous occasions, could meet 2017 runner-up Thiem in the quarter-finals and Del Potro in the semi-finals.
Nadal, who has already swept to 11th titles at both the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (d. Nishikori) and Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (d. Tsitsipas) in recent weeks, is riding a 19-match winning streak on clay and has been drawn to meet Gael Monfils or a qualifier in the second round. The 31-year-old is 45-7 lifetime in Madrid, with title runs in 2008, 2010, 2013-14 and 2017, in addition to runner-up finishes in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2015.
Fourth seed Del Potro, appearing in Madrid for the eighth time, is competing for the first time since John Isner ended his 15-match winning streak in the Miami Open presented by Itau semi-finals. The Argentine, who will play Julien Benneteau or Damir Dzumhur in the second round, captured back-to-back ATP World Tour titles at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel (d. Anderson) and the BNP Paribas Open (d. Federer). He has advanced to the Madrid semi-finals on two occasions (2009 and 2012).
Fifth seed Thiem, who last year contested four clay-court matches against Nadal during the spring European clay swing (Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros), will be hoping to return to top form, starting with a second-round tie against Mischa Zverev or a qualifier. Three weeks ago, Nadal beat Thiem 6-0, 6-2 in the Monte-Carlo quarter-finals.
Second seed Alexander Zverev, who reached the quarter-finals last year (l. to Cuevas), will play in-form #NextGenATP Stefanos Tsitsipas, the recent Barcelona runner-up, or a qualifier. Seventh seed John Isner, winner of his first Masters 1000 crown in Miami, goes up against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or compatriot Ryan Harrison in the second round.