With the French Open right around the corner, the tennis world has its focus fixed on the red clay of the Mutua Madrid Open.  This is the only Masters Series 1000 event on clay that Rafael Nadal hasn’t won at least once in the last two years.  Roger Federer was the victor on the eccentric and inconsistent blue clay in 2012. Novak Djokovic captured the title in 2011, taking out Nadal in straight sets, handing the King of Clay only his third ever defeat in the final of a Masters Series 1000 event on clay.   

            Less than two weeks ago, Djokovic stopped Nadal dead in his tracks in Monte Carlo, ending his eight year title streak in the Principality.  Though Nadal was able to claim his eighth title in Barcelona defeating Nicolas Almagro, his hunger has surely not been satisfied.  

            Australian Open finalist Andy Murray had quite the disappointing showing in Monte Carlo losing 6-1 6-2 to Stanislas Wawrinka in the round of 16.  Murray will be desperate to gain confidence prior to the French Open, the most putrid of the four slams for the Brit.     

            Rounding out the big four is Roger Federer, who has not stepped on court following his semifinal defeat to Rafael Nadal in Miami.  Points wise, this is an extremely substantial tournament for the world number two.  Not only does Federer have 1000 points to shield from 2012, but his compatriots Nadal, Djokovic and Murray all failed to reach the semifinals in 2012 and will view Madrid as a wonderful opportunity to accrue points.

            Looking beyond the big four, Janko Tipsarevic has major points to defend from his semifinal showing in 2012 where he took out Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.    Juan Martin Del Potro, a 2012 semifinalist has unfortunately been forced to retire due to a viral infection and will drop 360 points.  Madrid presents a major challenge for Tomas Berdych who will be attempting to defend the 600 points he secured by reaching last year’s final.

            The tournament has four wildcards, seven qualifiers and the top eight seeds will receive byes in the first round.

             Prize Pool: € 4,303,867

             Ranking Points: 1000

             Seeded Players: 1. Novak Djokovic (Serbia), 2. Roger Federer (Switzerland), 3. Andy Murray (Great Britain), 4. David Ferrer (Spain), 5. Rafael Nadal (Spain), 6. Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic), 7. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France), 8. Richard Gasquet (France)

             2012 Final: Roger Federer d. Tomas Berdych 3-6 7-5 7-5

Quarter by Quarter Breakdown:

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter- Novak Djokovic’s confidence could not be any higher right now.  Dethroning Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo was a monumental feat for the Serb and the beginning of what he hopes will be a forceful surge of confidence and form that will carry him to Roland Garros.  Djokovic  will likely take on Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the second round.  Dimitrov almost did the dirty work for Djokovic in Monte Carlo stretching Nadal to the fringe before succumbing 6-4 in the third.  Stanislas Wawrinka will likely be waiting in the wings for Djokovic in the third round setting up a rematch of their epic clash in Australia.  Milos Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are both in the bottom half of this quarter.   Both of these players can unleash massive amounts of power but both lack the necessary consistency to take out Djokovic, especially on clay.  I would certainly expect Djokovic to reach the semifinals but don’t be surprised if he is tested along the way. 

            Prediction: Novak Djokovic d. Milos Raonic

Roger Federer’s Quarter- Roger Federer’s quarter of the draw is undoubtedly the weakest and should allow the Swiss to work his way back into form following his almost two month haitus.  Bernard Tomic and Radek Stepanek, two players who are more equipped for swifter, lower bouncing courts, will meet in the opening round with the winner taking on Federer in the second round.  Kei Nishikori is Federer’s likely third round matchup and will definitely pose a threat to the Swiss if he is on his game.  Richard Gasquet is the other top eight seed in this quarter and could meet John Isner in the third round.  Isner’s performance in this tournament should provide a decent indication of whether or not the American has truly turned around his season.  His title in Houston over Almagro was monumental and may be the spark the big man needs to propel himself through to the French Open.

           Prediction: Roger Federer d. Richard Gasquet

Andy Murray’s Quarter- Astonishingly enough, Andy Murray has never reached a tour level clay court final.  To erase this unimpressive stat from the books, the Brit is going to have to put together quite a week from beginning to finish.  After what could be a very tricky second round encounter with Brazilian lefty Thomaz Bellucci or the eccentric German, Florian Mayer, Murray could face either Jeremy Chardy, Horacio Zeballos, Julien Benneteau or Gilles Simon, four players have top ten scalps this season.  On the bottom half of this quarter Jerzy Janowicz and Sam Querrey are set to tangle in what promises to be an electric first round matchup.  The winner of this match will provide Tomas Berdych with a formidable obstacle as he looks to reestablish the level of play that carried him to the final in 2012.  Janko Tipsarevic and Juan Monaco will also square off in the opening round, a matchup between two players who have yet to find their range in 2013.  Kevin Anderson also looms large in this quarter and will be looking to extend upon his highly notable 18-7 record in 2013.   

            Prediction:  Tomas Berdych d. Andy Murray

David Ferrer’s Quarter- In reality, this is of course Rafael Nadal’s quarter but since I’m going by rankings, we’ll call it Ferrer’s for now.  Nadal is on target to setup a rematch of the Barcelona final against Nicolas Almagro in the third round.  The battle of the Tommy’s could very well be in place if Haas is able to overcome Seppi and Robredo is able to overcome Baghdatis in their opening round matches.  All four of the aforementioned players would offer David Ferrer a reasonably stern third round test.  A Nadal-Ferrer quarterfinal is what should be expected and in all probability is what will occur.  

            Prediction: Rafael Nadal d. David Ferrer.

Dark Horse: Kevin Anderson

Tournament Notes:

·      The 2013 edition of the Mutua Madrid Open will take place on red clay

·      This is Roger Federer’s first tournament since Indian Wells

·      Rafael Nadal is the number five seed

·      Juan Martin Del Potro and Ernests Gulbis will be missing in action this week