The Madrid Open is in full swing, but with the seeded casualties already fallen, dropped out or missing in action, to a tennis fan the draw looks like a mess. Notwithstanding Rafael Nadal, the number one seeds, shocking early exits at his previous two clay court tournaments in which he has won a combined 16 titles between 2005-2013, it really does seem like anyone’s tournament. Then again, that is a bold statement considering who is still left in the fight.
A few weeks ago in Monte Carlo, a tournament which could almost be called his own, Nadal fell early to his good friend and fellow countryman David Ferrer, in straight sets. Then a week later his hopes for a 9th title in Barcelona were dashed as he fell to another Spanish clay court specialist Nicolas Almago in three hard fought sets. These stunning losses for the King of Clay were only matched by the strange mix of victories and defeats that riddled the men’s game with curious and exciting results.
Not long ago, the “Big Four” as they were called (Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray) dominated the top of the men’s game. So prevailing were the four that between them they won 34 of the past 36 majors going back to Roland Garros 2005. Due to the notoriety and press their run at the top brought the game of tennis, it was often called the new “Golden Age” of tennis.
Well the game has been shaken up as of late. Top contender for the number one ranking and 2011 Madrid champion Novak Djokovic, withdrew with injury. Meanwhile, the ever dangerous three time titlist Roger Federer, skipped the tournament to be with his wife, who delivered another set of twins. Finally Scotsman Andy Murray, who defeated Nicolas Almagro in a tough three set match in the second round, was sent packing in straight sets by 2014 Barcelona finalist Santiago Giraldo.
2014 Australian Open and Monte Carlo winner Stanislas Wawrinka was also dismissed early by Australian young gun Dominic Thiem. With stars like France’s Jo Wilifred Tsonga, big serving American John Isner and the powerful Canadian Milos Roanic all watching from their hotel rooms, the draw does seem like a mixed up mess to speculators.
Despite the lack of confidence and form on his favorite surface, Rafael Nadal is still considered by anyone that watches tennis the clear favorite in Madrid. It is doubtful that such a sentiment would ever reach the likes of Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who hoisted the Barcelona trophy last week, and is in stellar form. David Ferrer also seems to be finding his groove, and with blood on his racket from the beating he gave Nadal in Monte Carlo, his confidence is high. Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych is always a threat in any draw, and despite his surprise loss in Portugal to Carlos Berlocq in the final, he seems full of spit and vinegar.
The clay court season leading up to the second grand slam has been Rafael Nadal’s best time of the year for so long, it’s an interesting mix to see different players finding their game. The Madrid open would be a huge confidence booster for his final stop in Rome before the French Open. The outcome is far from the forgone conclusion it has been in prior years, and the mess of the draw only adds to the drama of the outcome. May the best man win.
Commentary by J. Benjamin
ATP World Tour
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