The second big clay event of the year in Madrid looked like it would be Novak Djokovic
‘s fourth step on the way to a potential Masters sweep but it was not to be after he announced his withdrawal from the tournament. On paper, the favourite now appears to be Rafael Nadal
despite his recent struggles. The Spaniard defends the title he won against Kei Nishikori
, which saw the Japanese star retire down 0-3 in the third set.
Roger Federer moves into the top seed but will have it far from easy against an in-form Nick Kyrgios or Daniel Gimeno-Traver. Kyrgios had done very little on clay but made his first final while Federer comes in off a title at the new Istanbul tournament, defeating Pablo Cuevas for the trophy. Federer is a three times winner of the Madrid Masters tournament, although the first of those came when the event was played on an indoor hard court.
John Isner is the seed projected to play Federer in round three but will need to see off Adrian Mannarino for the third time in four meetings first before facing the winner of Thomaz Bellucci and Jeremy Chardy. Bellucci qualified after winning a third set tiebreak against Federico Delbonis. Isner notably has a win over Federer on clay, in Davis Cup action in 2012.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will look to bounce back from a disastrous straight sets loss to Marcel Granollers in Barcelona when he takes on Lukas Rosol in round one. He is 2-0 against the Czech, without losing a set. The most recent of those was last year where Tsonga won 6-2 6-2 6-3 in Davis Cup play. Jack Sock or Pablo Andujar await the winner. Andujar followed up his surprise run to the Barcelona final by having to withdraw from Munich down 1-4 in the opening set of his second round match.
Tomas Berdych made the final the year of the disastrous blue clay experiment, losing in three sets to Federer. While he may still need to beat the Swiss and Rafael Nadal to get there, the withdrawal of Djokovic opens up a route to the final if he can compete at a high level. Estoril title winner Richard Gasquet is the likely first round opponent for the Czech who has a losing head to head against Gasquet, on clay and overall. He will look to even those up at 2-2 and 6-6 to move into the third round.
In losing to Fabio Fognini in Barcelona, Rafael Nadal saw the Italian add his name to a very small list of players who have defeated Nadal twice on clay – both of which came in the same year. Doubts remain over Nadal’s ability to compete at the very top level and with each bad loss, it feels like he is nearing closer to the end. However, it would take some effort from the rest of the draw to ensure he doesn’t at least make the final here. He has made it on five of the six occasions since Madrid became a clay event, with the one failure on blue clay. The early rounds of the draw don’t seem too troubling with Simone Bolelli and Bernard Tomic seemingly the best to offer in terms of denying him a quarter final spot.
Once he makes it there, there are plenty of tough outs for Nadal. Fognini is unseeded here but might fancy his chances against Grigor Dimitrov, given that the Bulgarian was defeated fairly easily against a handy clay player in Pablo Cuevas in Istanbul. Stanislas Wawrinka will be the expected quarter finalist though and if they meet, will face Nadal for the first time since the Australian Open final. It was there that Wawrinka ended a 12 match, 26 set losing streak against Nadal.
Kei Nishikori would likely have won this tournament last year had his body held up, but it didn’t and he would be forced to retire in the third set of the final against Nadal. The fourth seed will hope to complete the job this time and has a handy route to the final with both Federer and Nadal not a possible opponent until the final. While not playing Nadal, his route to the semis is laden with his countrymen. An opener against Ernests Gulbis or David Goffin doesn’t look as frightening as it would have done 6-9 months ago. Roberto Bautista-Agut has not beaten a top 10 player in his last 10 attempts and is a life time 3-16 against the top 10. Bautista-Agut begins against the wildcard of choice from the Romanian tournament owner, Marius Copil. Thanasi Kokkinakis is a potential round two opponent for Bautista-Agut. The young Australian is now an impressive 13-0 in qualifying matches on the ATP tour this year.
Istanbul finalist Pablo Cuevas will look to continue his good form but has a tough ask in round two should he defeat Albert Ramos. The Uruguayan is set to play David Ferrer, who made the semi finals last year. After a stunning start to the year, Ferrer has begun to slow down and disappointingly faltered to Pablo Andujar in the Barcelona semi final. Another of Ferrer’s five losses on the year was to Nishikori, who was a winner in straights at the Australian Open. Fernando Verdasco and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez will seek to make it an all-Spanish round three match with Ferrer but it is likely that Marin Cilic will make it there instead. The ninth seed needs a good run after a shock loss to Victor Estrella last time out in Barcelona.
With the bump up to second seed, Andy Murray could be set for one of his unlikely runs on the surface he finds less than preferable. However, weather issues in Munich have meant his bid for a first clay title have been delayed until Monday which disturbs his preparation coming into this event. That final is against Philipp Kohlschreiber, who could be his first opponent if the German extends his head to head over Alejandro Falla to 6-1 in round one. Gael Monfils remains as unpredictable as ever but should make it 4-0 against Viktor Troicki in his opener to move closer to a round three with Murray. They last met at Roland Garros last year in a bizarre match that ended 6-4 6-1 4-6 1-6 6-0 in Murray’s favour.
If Murray falls early, look for Milos Raonic to continue his rivalry with Kei Nishikori if they both make it as far as the semi final. However, Raonic has not played for a month since withdrawing from Monte Carlo and Juan Monaco will be a tough test to begin for the Canadian. Feliciano Lopez rounds off the seeds – he is 2-3 against Raonic while a potential quarter final with Murray would appear to be one sided on paper, given Lopez is an ugly 0-10 against the No.2 seed.