10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Ricky’s Preview and Picks for the Madrid Masters: Another Nadal vs. Tsitsipas Final?

Rafael Nadal during a training session at the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament, in Madrid, Spain, 03 May 2021. EPA-EFE/RODRIGO JIMENEZ

By Ricky Dimon

With the French Open less than a month away, we have already reached the halfway point of the clay-court swing. But there are still two more Masters 1000 events to be played before the season’s second Grand Slam takes center stage. One is underway in Madrid, where Rafael Nadal returns to action in search of a sixth title in front of the home crowd. Nadal is the No. 1 seed because Novak Djokovic is skipping this tournament; the Spaniard is followed by Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Also among the expected title contenders are Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Roberto Bautista Agut, and Jannik Sinner.

Mutua Madrid Open

Where: Madrid, Spain
Prize money: 2,614,465 Euros
Top seed: Rafael Nadal
2019 champion: Novak Djokovic (not playing)

Aside from being on the opposite side from Tsitsipas, the Madrid draw ceremony was not especially kind to Nadal. The 20-time Grand Slam champion could have intriguing matchups on his hands from start to finish. Carlos Alcaraz, thought to be the next great Spanish player, is potentially Nadal’s opening opponent. The 34-year-old could then run into a red-hot Jannik Sinner in the last 16. Zverev would likely be Nadal’s quarterfinal adversary, while Rublev is on a collision course with Nadal for the semis.

Rublev may first have to get past familiar for Bautista Agut in round three. They have already faced each other twice this season, with Bautista Agut dominating in Doha before Rublev survived a three-set thriller in Monte-Carlo. Thiem is the highest seed in the second section of the bracket, but the two-time French Open runner-up has not played since mid-March and has won just a single match since the Australian Open.

Thiem is not the only top-four seed who is a question mark this week. Medvedev is the same–but for a much different reason. The third-ranked Russian is simply a novice on clay compared to how good he is on hard courts. With Medvedev vulnerable, the bottom of the Madrid bracket could be open for Matteo Berrettini, Cristian Garin, Pablo Carreno Busta, or Estoril champion Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

Greek tennis player Stefanos Tsitsipas in action against Italian tennis player Jannik Sinner during the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell – Conde de Godo tournament semifinal match in Barcelona, Spain, 24 April 2021. EPA-EFE/Alejandro Garcia

It is Tsitsipas who has to be considered the favorite to reach the final out of the bottom half of the draw. The fifth-ranked Greek could open with Munich title winner Nikoloz Basilashvili before running into either Felix Auger-Aliassime or Casper Ruud in the last 16. Auger-Aliassime vs. Ruud is one of the marquee first-round matchups. Also watch out for Denis Shapovalov and Aslan Karatsev in Tsitsipas’ section.

Quarterfinal picks: Rafael Nadal over Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev over Alex de Minaur, Stefanos Tsitsipas over Aslan Karatsev, and Pablo Carreno Busta over Cristian Garin

Semifinals: Rafael Nadal over Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas over Pablo Carreno Busta

Final: Nadal over Tsitsipas

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