10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Tennis ATP • Ricky’s Picks For Madrid Mutua Open: Can Anyone Stop Rafael Nadal?

Spain’s Rafael Nadal attends a training session during the 2018 Mutua Madrid Open tennis torunament at Caja Magica in Madrid, Spain, 04 May 2018. Mutua Madrid Open starts on 04 May 2018 in the Spanish capital. EPA-EFE/MARISCAL



By Ricky Dimon


Following a one-week hiatus, the busiest stretch of Masters 1000s continues this week in Madrid. Rafael Nadal will be putting streaks of 12 matches and 46 clay-court sets to the test, while he is also defending his 2017 MMO title. Can anyone seriously challenge him? Roger Federer, of course, is out for the entire clay-court swing—leaving Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Dominic Thiem as the top seeds behind Nadal.


Mutua Madrid Open

Points: 1000

Prize money: 6,200,860 Euros

Top seed: Rafael Nadal

Defending champion: Rafael Nadal


Thiem must be regretting his departure from the top four in the rankings, because that means he can run into Nadal as early as the quarterfinals in most events. And that is exactly what has happened so far in April and May. After squaring off in the Monte-Carlo quarterfinals, arguably the two best clay-courters on tour are on a collision course to do the same this coming week. However, Thiem is no longer the undisputed top dirt threat to Nadal like he was in 2017. The 24-year-old suffered a knee injury in Indian Wells and has not been the same since, getting clobbered by Nadal in Monte-Carlo and losing in easy straight sets to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Barcelona. Thiem may have to get past a confident Pablo Carreno Busta during third-round action in Madrid if he wants another shot at Nadal.


It is none other than Tsitsipas who is suddenly looking like the second-best player in the world on clay. Granted, the sample size is extremely small; but it is impressive, nonetheless. The 19-year-old qualified and reached the second round in Monte-Carlo, placed runner-up to Nadal in Barcelona, and advanced to the Estoril semifinals. Tsitsipas and Zverev could go head-to-head in the marquee match of the Madrid second round. That bottom section of the draw is also home to Miami winner John Isner, 2017 Nitto ATP Finals qualifier Jack Sock, and capable clay-courters Fabio Fognini and Pablo Cuevas.


Dimitrov and David Goffin were also among those who were happy to avoid Nadal on their side of the bracket. They have already gone head-to-head twice in 2018, seven times since the start of 2017, and may do so again in the Madrid quarters. But their paths are not easy. Dimitrov likely awaits Milos Raonic in the second round, while in the third round Goffin could meet the winner of a blockbuster first-round battle between Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori.


Back in the top half of the draw, potential semifinal opponents for Nadal are Del Potro, Kevin Anderson, Tomas Berdych, Roberto Bautista Agut, and Karen Khachanov. Del Potro has not yet played a match on clay in 2018 and Anderson has played only one (lost to Tsitsipas right away in Estoril), so this quarter is especially wide open.


Other first-round matchups worth watching along with Djokovic-Nishikori are Berdych vs. Gasquet, Sock vs. Cuevas, Carreno Busta vs. Borna Coric, and Kyle Edmund vs. Daniil Medvedev.


First-round upset possibility: Kei Nishikori over (10) Novak Djokovic. Either seeded lower than normal or unseeded entirely, Nishikori and Djokovic have been unable to avoid terrible draws during their respective comebacks to the tour. This one is especially rough for both, as one will be bounced out of the Madrid Masters after the first round.


The only good news is that they are on the other side of the bracket from Nadal, so the winner will at least have some chance of reaching the final much later in the week. Djokovic is way out in front of the head-to-head series 11-2, but his 2018 comeback is off to an alarmingly poor start. The 30-year-old seemed to gaining momentum following disasters in Indian Wells and Miami with two match victories in Monte-Carlo, but he took another turn for the worse with an immediate setback against Martin Klizan in Barcelona. Nishikori’s comeback has been more encouraging, highlighted by a runner-up finish in Monte-Carlo.


Quarterfinal picks: Nadal over Thiem, Del Potro over Bautista Agut, Goffin over Raonic, and Zverev over Cuevas

Semis: Nadal over Del Potro and Zverev over Goffin

Final: Nadal over Zverev


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *