Djokovic: Nadal Is Always The No. 1 Favourite On Clay
Rafael Nadal arrives at the Mutua Madrid Open without a title on the season for the first time in 15 years. But World No. 1 Novak Djokovic still has no doubt that the Spaniard is the favourite to lift the trophy.
“He’s always the No. 1 favourite to win any clay-court event. It’s not any different here in Madrid,” Djokovic said. “Actually, even more here in Madrid because he’s playing at home.”
Djokovic and Nadal have competed against one another three times in Madrid, with Nadal winning two of their three FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings here, including an epic 2009 semi-final that the Spaniard emerged victorious from after four hours and three minutes.
But Djokovic will hope to meet Nadal again, because that would mean he’d be in the final. The top seed has made just one quarter-final in his three tournaments since winning the Australian Open. If he turns it around and triumphs here, though, Djokovic will tie Nadal’s record of 33 ATP Masters 1000 titles.
“I haven’t been maybe playing my best in the last couple of months. But I’m slowly building and hopefully I can manifest my best tennis here,” the Serbian said.
Djokovic is a two-time titlist at the Caja Magica, and he owns a 24-8 at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament overall. He also has earned three Top 10 wins at the event.
“It is nice to be back in Madrid. I have had very good success and some good results here in the past. And I’m happy to be healthy playing Madrid because last year that wasn’t the case,” Djokovic said. “After surgery, I was on the way back and I still struggled a little bit with the elbow. This year’s quite different.”
This time last year, Djokovic was still recovering from the right elbow procedure he underwent after the Australian Open. But after losing his second-round match in Madrid and reaching the semi-finals in Rome, the Serbian made the final at seven of his season’s final nine tournaments.
Last year, Djokovic was still focused on his health. This year, as he celebrates his 250th week atop the ATP Rankings, he’ll be hoping to lift a third trophy.
“Conditions here are obviously different than any other clay-court event. The altitude affects the play. The ball flies through the air quite quickly and it’s not easy to control the ball,” Djokovic said. “The memories from the years when I won the tournament in 2011 and ’16, I’m trying to relive these memories again and get obviously confidence from starting off the season well in Australia.”
While Djokovic will not face him unless they meet in the final, it is also the final tournament of former World No. 3 David Ferrer’s career. The Serbian lost just two sets during his 2011 title run at the Caja Magica, and one of those came against Ferrer in the quarter-finals.
“I share tremendous respect for David as player and as a person as well. He’s someone that has earned that respect many times in his career. His fighting spirit, his devotion to the sport is unprecedented and in a way it’s sad to see him leave,” Djokovic said. “But I’ve talked with him the other day and he said he was preparing for this for a while and he’s ready. He has a family and obviously he’s ready for the next stage of his life. But he is always going to be welcome in our sport. And the doors will always be open for him.”
Djokovic begins his tournament on Tuesday against 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier Taylor Fritz, whom he defeated with the loss of just three games at this year’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.