Novak Djokovic has been dealt a tough draw at the ATP 1000 tournament in Madrid. Djokovic needs to win the title, and Rafael Nadal has to lose before the quarter-finals, if the Serbian hopes to reclaim the ATP no.1 ranking he lost last October. But with his recent wrist injury and his possible draw, that already tough task just got even tougher.
Djokovic will have his hands full from his opening match onwards. Djokovic could face Marin Cilic in the second round if the big-serving Croat makes it past Joao Sousa. Cilic has been in formidable form this season, winning titles in Zagreb and Delray Beach. The world no.27 may only have a 7-6 win-loss record in Madrid, but he is in good form on the Clay having recently made the quarter-finals in Barcelona.
Cilic and Djokovic have never met on the Clay, however they have met eight times on hard courts, and Djokovic has won each time. But, in their last meeting in Miami, Cilic took the first set in an awesome display of power serving and first strike tennis. And the Madrid courts will suit his game as the courts are faster and the balls bounce lower than on other clay courts due to the high altitude of the Spanish capital.
Cilic may also find he is helped out somewhat by Djokovic’s recent wrist injury. Though Doctors have cleared the world no.2 to play, just how much practice he has had, and how the injury will affect him mentally with his much sought-after Roland Garros title coming up remains to be seen. Djokovic will be weary of aggravating the wrist and if this inhibits him, Cilic has all the tools to take advantage.
If Djokovic makes it past Cilic, he will face one of a formidable foursome of Fognini, Janowicz, Gulbis or Dolgopolov. Fognini is a finalist this week in Munich and an accomplished clay-courter and, while Djokovic has beaten him seven times and never lost, should not be underestimated. Janowicz, who Djokovic has never played, may be struggling recently but has the kind if game that could do well in Madrid. Dolgopolov is having a career best season and has all the tools to get under Djokovic’s skin on the Clay as seen in their 2012 meeting in Monte Carlo which went to three sets.
Gulbis may prove to be the biggest threat. With one career victory over Djokovic, on his resume he has the confidence and game to send a sub-par Djokovic out of the championships, much like Grigor Dimitrov did in last year’s third round. Gulbis is in good form this season, too, going 18-8, and has some pedigree on clay. The world no.20 was a quarter-finalist in Madrid last season, took a set from Nadal in Rome last year, and beat Federer and then took a set of Nadal at the same event in 2009. Gulbis was also a quarter-finalist at Roland Garros in 2008, pushing Djokovic to the brink in three tight sets before bowing out.
Should Djokovic make it past one of those four into the quarters, he is scheduled to meet David Ferrer who is coming of a win over Nadal in Monte-Carlo. That could prove to be tough, especially if Djokovic is taken to lengthy three setters in his previous matches as Ferrer will come ready to run and run, and while Djokovic has arguably the tour’s best wheels, Ferrer can, on his day, out-run anyone.
If the Serb gets to the semi-finals, he is seeded to meet Stanislas Wawrinka, the Monte-Carlo Champion and the man who put an end to his 25 match winning streak at the Australian Open back in January. A confident, attacking Wawrinka, the 2013 runner-up, will be quite the obstacle.
Provided Djokovic gets over it, Rafael Nadal is projected to be waiting in the final. However, if Nadal is not there and has been knocked out before the quarters, the ATP no.1 ranking is there for Djokovic’s taking. If Federer is on the other side of the net though, grabbing it will be hard. Federer has two victories over Djokovic this season, the last one in the semi-finals of Monte-Carlo. If Djokovic can survive the previous rounds and then Federer in the final, and if Nadal is out before the last eight, Djokovic will have dealt with one of the toughest draws any player has had to get through to make it to the top of the ATP rankings.
Commentary by Christian Deverille