The clay-court season rolls into the Caja Magica, where the world’s biggest stars will compete for an ATP Masters 1000 title at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Five-time titlist Rafael Nadal leads the way as he pursues a record-tying 37th Masters 1000 crown, while World No. 1 Novak Djokovic tops the draw. All eyes will also be on the rapidly rising Spanish star Carlos Alcaraz, who will try to make a deep run in front of his home fans.
ATPTour.com looks at 10 things to watch in Madrid.
VIEW DRAWS: SINGLES | DOUBLES
1) Rafa Returns: Nadal will chase his sixth title this week in Madrid, where he owns a 54-13 record. The lefty has not competed since Indian Wells due to a stress fracture in one of his ribs, so he will be keen to make a quick start to his clay-court season.
Before the injury, Nadal was the hottest player on the ATP Tour. The Spaniard has won 20 of his 21 matches this year, including a run to his record 21st major trophy at the Australian Open. Nadal’s most recent title at the Caja Magica came in 2017, and last year he reached the quarter-finals. He could face a stern test in his opener against in-form Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic or Kazakhstani Alexander Bublik.
2) Novak Rounding Into Form: Djokovic made a slow start to his clay-court season with an opening loss in Monte Carlo. However, the Serbian rounded into form on home soil at the Serbia Open in Belgrade, where he won three three-setters before falling in a deciding set in the final against Andrey Rublev.
The three-time Madrid titlist will try to carry that level to the Caja Magica, where he will begin his run against Frenchman Gael Monfils or wild card Carlos Gimeno Valero. If Djokovic faces Monfils, he will take a 17-0 lead in their ATP Head2Head series into that matchup.
3) Alcaraz Rising: Nobody has created more hype this season than Alcaraz, who last Monday cracked the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time at World No. 9. The 18-year-old — who turns 19 on 5 May — has received plenty of attention, including a recent appearance on famous Spanish talkshow El Hormiguero.
But the teen, who claimed his maiden Masters 1000 title in Miami, will be focussed on the task at hand, which is making a deep run in front of his home fans. Alcaraz will play Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili or Italian Fabio Fognini in the second round, with a blockbuster showdown potentially looming against Nadal in the quarter-finals if they both advance that far. The #NextGenATP star made his debut at the Caja Magica last year, when he defeated Frenchman Adrian Mannarino before losing to Nadal in straight sets.
4) Tsitsipas Flying High: Stefanos Tsitsipas will bring plenty of confidence to the season’s second clay-court Masters 1000 event after lifting the trophy at the first in Monte Carlo. The Greek star has also played well in Madrid before, having made the final in 2019 with three-set wins against Alexander Zverev and Nadal before losing to Djokovic. The 23-year-old will have to be sharp from his first match, which will come against one of two former Top 10 players in Karen Khachanov or Lucas Pouille.
5) Zverev Two-Time Champ: Zverev is a two-time champion at the Mutua Madrid Open, where his booming serve and comfort at the back of the court have combined for good results in the past. The German earned three consecutive Top 10 victories en route to the title last year, including a straight-sets triumph against Nadal in the quarter-finals. This edition he is the second seed and will begin his tournament against 2017 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters finalist Albert Ramos-Vinolas or former World No. 3 Marin Cilic.
6) Murray-Thiem Blockbuster: When the draw came out, one first-round match in particular stood out: a tantalising encounter between former World No. 1 Andy Murray and former World No. 3 Dominic Thiem. This will be the pair’s fifth ATP Head2Head clash, with each man winning two of their previous meetings.
Murray is a two-time Mutua Madrid Open champion, triumphing in 2008 (on hard) and 2015 (on clay). He last competed at the Caja Magica in 2017 and had planned to skip the clay-court season this year before taking a wild card into the event. Thiem made the Madrid final in 2017 and 2018, and is continuing his comeback from a wrist injury that kept him out for eight months.
7) Spaniards To Watch: All eyes will be on Nadal and Alcaraz, but there are other Spaniards to watch in Madrid. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina advanced to his first Masters 1000 final, while Pablo Carreno Busta and 2014 semi-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut are seeded 16th and 17th, respectively. Ramos-Vinolas, a four-time ATP Tour titlist, is always dangerous on clay and could play Zverev in the second round.
8) Dangerous On Clay: While they might not be at the very top of the favourites’ list in Madrid, Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev, the fifth and sixth seeds, respectively, are dangerous players on clay. Ruud made the semi-finals at last year’s Nitto ATP Finals on a hard court, but he made his ascent off the back of impressive clay-court play. The Norwegian has claimed six of his seven ATP Tour titles on the surface, including a victory earlier this year in Buenos Aires. Ruud opens against Croatian Borna Coric or a qualifier.
Unlike Ruud, Rublev is known for his hard-court play with his booming groundstrokes, especially his forehand. But his game has translated well to clay, on which he has earned three titles, including one last week in Belgrade, where he upset Djokovic in the final. The second seed, who is making his second appearance in Madrid, will face Italian Lorenzo Sonego or British wild card Jack Draper in the second round.
9) Granollers/Zeballos Defending Champions: Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos are the defending champions in Madrid, but they will have to battle through a tough field if they are to retain their crown. The top seeds are Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, the recent Monte Carlo winners who have lifted two Masters 1000 trophies and two major crowns together.
10) Top 10 Singles Stars Playing Doubles: The singles stars are plentiful in the doubles draw, with five of the Top 10 players in the ATP Rankings competing. Alcaraz is playing with Marc Lopez, Tsitsipas with his brother Petros Tsitsipas, Zverev alongside Marcelo Melo, Rublev is partnering Karen Khachanov and Felix Auger-Aliassime is competing with 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov.