ATP Madrid Preview

MADRIDOPEN

Mutua Madrid Open Preview
Andy Murray is your defending champion this week in Madrid as the ATP World Tour gears up on the road to Roland Garros later this month. The Mutua Madrid Open has been controlled by the “Big Four” with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal accounting for all the titles won in Madrid since 2008. Murray’s 2008 win was the last time that the tournament was played on hard courts before it switched over to clay in 2009.

It’s a loaded field for this Masters 1000 with only Marin Cilic missing from the Top 12 ranked players on tour. Djokovic is seed first, followed by Murray, Federer and Stan Wawrinka. Nadal is in as the 5th seed. Among the top ten seeds, only Richard Gasquet has failed to make at least the quarterfinals in Madrid. As a Masters event, seeded upsets to open are a little more rare. Still, over the last five years there have been at least two seeds to drop out in their opening match in Madrid. More importantly, a top eight seed has lost in each of the last five years in that scenario. That includes the top seed losing twice, Federer in 2015 and Djokovic in 2013.

Chew on that, while I present you with the Seed Report.

Seed Report
1. Novak Djokovic
Surprisingly, Djokovic has not done great at this event. He is 16-6, but has only won the title once. That was in 2011. This will be the Serb’s first trip back to Madrid since he lost his opening match to Grigor Dimitrov in a 2013 shocker.

2. Andy Murray
Murray has made the quarters or better in four of the six years since Madrid switched to clay. Last year’s title was a surprise, especially the demolition of Nadal in the final. The Scot is 22-7 all-time at this tournament.

3. Roger Federer
Federer lost a three tiebreak match to Nick Kyrgios last year as he was taken down in his opening match. It was his second straight disappointment in Madrid after losing to straights to Kei Nishikori in the round of 16 in 2013. From 2009-2012 though, Federer was awesome in Madrid as he made the final three out of four years. That included two titles.

4. Stan Wawrinka
Wawrinka is 13-9 overall in Madrid. He lost the 2013 final to Nadal, but that seems an anomaly for the Swiss at this tournament. Since then, he has just one win in three matches. Outside of the 2013 finals run, Wawrinka has failed to progress past the round of 16 every year.

5. Rafael Nadal
The Spaniard will seek to continue his rich vein of form this week and Madrid seems a good place to do it. The lefty has a 39-9 record in Madrid and has made the final every year since the tournament switched to clay except for one. He has three titles in that span.

6. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori has only played Madrid four times. He has found good success overall at 11-4 and made the 2014 final. He lost to Nadal when his body let him down and he was forced to retire from the match, where he looked in control until a back problem flared up. He has made a quarterfinal, final and semifinal the last three trips here.

7. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
The Frenchman comes in this week with an injury concern. A knee problem forced him out of Estoril last week. Tsonga reportedly felt the injury back in Monte Carlo during his win over Roger Federer. A quarterfinal run in 2013 is his best finish. He should be on upset alert early.

8. Tomas Berdych
The Czech is 19-11 all-time in Madrid with a finals trip in 2012. He has also made the semifinals in two of the last three years. An interesting note for Berdych this week is that the #8 seed has been an upset victim in their first match three of the last five years. Berdych was flat in his loss in Monte Carlo in his first match there, so despite his impressive past in Madrid, he could be in trouble early.

Other Seeds on Upset Alert
David Ferrer
Richard Gasquet
Gael Monfils
Dominic Thiem
Roberto Bautista Agut

Ferrer is an injury and rust concern after not playing since Miami. Gasquet simply has not been good here at 5-7 and draws a tough qualifier in Robert Carballes Baena to open. Monfils has injury concerns, this time with a groin problem. Thiem comes in off a longer week in Munuch and disappointing and tough finals loss to Kohlschreiber. Couple that with having to play Juan Martin Del Potro to open and Thiem will need to start fast to avoid an upset. Bautista Agut’s problem for his first match is laid out below.

The Quali-fire
This week, this segment should be called the Santiago Giraldo. Giraldo has made it through qualifying for the fourth time in the last five years. Why would The Pig point that out? Probably because the Colombian parlayed that into a quarterfinal run in 2014. Other than that, qualifiers generally are done by the second round in Madrid. That’s not to say they don’t win their fair share in the opening round, so keep an eye on those qualifiers who made the main draw.

That would include Giraldo who battles 15th seeded RBA in round one. The Spaniard owns the head-to-head advantage, but has not been all that convincing on this surface. Carballes Baena is another one already mentioned. He goes against Gasquet. Don’t forget “The Worm” aka Radek Stepanek. The 37-year old get Vasek Pospisil in round one. Pospisil is 0-12 in main draw matches on clay at the ATP level.

Quarters Preview
First Quarter: Novak Djokovic (1)
This is an interesting week for Djokovic. After his Monte Carlo flop, you’d expect the top player in the world to really be locked in this week. The build-up to the French Open is going to be big for his confidence. He may have been fatigued against Jiri Vesely in Monte Carlo, but that loss was still one of the most shocking of the past decade to me. His quarter is set-up well for early success as Bautista Agut is the only seed he would see before the quarterfinals. In his half of the quarter, there are some nice first round matches with Nicolas Almagro against Borna Coric The Spanish vet got a great win in Estoril for his first title in nearly four years. Unfortunately, Almagro has not been a big factor in Madrid over the years with an 11-12 mark. Don’t be surprised if Coric catches him with the championship hangover. Also watch Feliciano Lopez and Leonardo Mayer in round one in this part of the draw. Two solid veterans.

The bottom half of this quarter looks wide open with Tsonga as the lead seed at #7. Milos Raonic is also in this part of the quarter as the 11th seed. The Canadian opens with Thomaz Bellucci with the winner to get Alexandr Dolgopolov in round two. Tsonga will face the winner of Albert Ramos-Vinolas vs Jeremy Chardy. Ramos or Chardy is fully capable of taking down a less-than-fit Tsonga to head into the third round. That should open this quarter up for Raonic, so long as the 11th seed can find his rhthym early. The draw has been tough on him in the past in Madrid, but this year that shouldn’t be an excuse if he fails to make the quarterfinals.

In the end, this is Djokovic’s quarter to take. Expect him to be focused early, but watch how efficient he is in the early rounds to see what his chances will be later in the tournament.

Second Quarter: Stan Wawrinka (4)
It’s already on the rehash a dead story network’s sites for round two, the Pig is certain of this. If Nick Kyrgios beats Guido Pella in round one, we get to relive a bunch of garbage about #SledgeGate. That would pit Kyrgios against Wawrinka in round two. The Aussie was decent in Estoril and might be underrated on clay. His upset over Federer last year here should put Wawrinka on warning that a non-Slam Stan effort could put the Swiss on a plane out of town. Monfils is the other seed in Wawrinka’s half of the quarter. His questionable health could open this up for the winner of the Pablo Cuevas-Philipp Kohlschreiber first round match to make a run. The German carries the title in from Munich, but neither he nor Cuevas has been able to make a major dent in Madrid. That might leave Kyrgios as a surprise threat.

The bottom half of the quarter is led by 6th seed Kei Nishikori and 10th seed Richard Gasquet. Nishikori gets Fabio Fognini or Bernard Tomic to open. If Gasquet survives his opener against Carballes Baena, he’ll seed Fernando Verdasco in round two. Verdasco edged Steve Johnson in a first round match on Sunday. Verdasco has won four of his last five on clay against Gasquet and could upset the apple cart.

All-in-all, this quarter could shape up nicely for Nishikori. With Wawrinka not in great form and never playing that well in Madrid, Nishikori really should be considered the favorite to get out of this quarter. If there’s a shock, it will come from the top half likely in the form of Kyrgios or Kohlschreiber.

Third Quarter: Roger Federer (3)
Federer won’t bee too excited to be stuck in the same quarter as Nadal, but he’ll take whatever wins he can get right now. In Federer’s half, 14th seed Dominic Thiem might be the immediate danger. The Austrian comes in off a good week in Munich and has been solid on clay this season. The only question is whether the Austrian has enough in the tank after a rough end to the Munich tournament. Thiem has to worry about getting past Del Potro to open, before we can start thinking about Federer and Thiem in round three. Del Potro is still struggling for consistency, but could find himself with a big win available against a fatigued Thiem. Benoit Paire against Jack Sock in the opening round will be a fun one.

The other half of the draw looks nice for Nadal. David Goffin is the only seed in his way. Goffin may have his hands full with qualifier Lucas Pouille in the first round. Nadal will get Viktor Troicki or Andrey Kuznetsov in the second round. Neither should greatly trouble the Spaniard. This half is likely to come down to Nadal vs Goffin for a shot at the quarterfinals. Nadal’s resurgence on clay should continue at least through that point.

Even with a lower seed, Nadal has to be the favorite here with Federer still trying to find a groove after months off due to the knee surgery. Thiem could be the sneaky pick in this quarter if he’s able to get his footing early in the opening round against Del Potro.

Fourth Quarter: Andy Murray (2)
Even without good form, Murray could do damage with this draw. The Scot only has 16th seed Gilles Simon in his half. He would see either Stepanek or Pospisil in his opener and then a third round showdown likely comes against Simon, Pablo Carreno Busta or Grigor Dimitrov. All of those match-ups are favorable for Murray.

The other half of the quarter looks more up-in-the-air with 8th seed Tomas Berdych and 9th seed David Ferrer leading the charge. Berdych has the curses #8, but should have a shot to reverse that curse against either Denis Istomin or Temuraz Gabishvili. Ferrer will look to shake off his rust against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the opening round. A win pits Ferrer against either Ivo Karlovic or Denis Kudla. In spite of the long layoff due to a calf injury, the Spaniard could find himself making a nice run this week to find some form

Murray has every chance of finally getting on a roll this week after some very mediocre results the last two months. Berdych has a good track record in Madrid, but needs to prove to himself early that he’s going to contend this week. That really makes this quarter wide open with so many question marks, but Murray’s good record here and draw should help him get through.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
This could be a defining moment of 2016, depending on how the draw shakes out. Many are going to look to a Djokovic-Nadal final in Madrid and that’s certainly a high probability. That match-up will mean so much to both players if it goes down. Djokovic needs to get his swagger back after Monte Carlo and Nadal wants to keep his in place, If there is one guy who could sneak in and not let that final happen, I’d bank on it being Kei Nishikori.

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