The crowning of Rafael Nadal looks to continue in Madrid as the Spaniard takes apart any opponent he faces on court. A lengthy winning streak of matches and sets will be further tested as he looks to win his fifth Madrid title in the 10 years since the tournament was converted to clay. Once again, he must win the tournament to ensure a non competing Roger Federer doesn’t return to No.1.
The top 8 seeds will get a bye so Nadal will have to wait a few days for his second round match. He is on an extraordinary run of form on the clay, even by his standards. Nadal has not dropped a set dating back to the beginning of the French Open last year, losing more than 4 games in a set just once in that time. The run includes three titles and 6 top 10 wins. The last person to beat Nadal was Thiem in Rome although the Austrian has since lost twice to him, winning just 9 games in the process. They are slated to play in the pick of the projected quarter finals. Thiem may be tested by Pablo Carreno Busta in a possible third round, with the Spaniard off a final run in Estoril while Nadal’s least straightforward match may come in the form of 13th seed Diego Schwartzman.
After a busy and productive run in North America, Juan Martin Del Potro had been taking some much needed rest. He returns this week and has to be one of the biggest threats to Nadal in the draw. He will hope to advance from a weak quarter to meet Nadal in the final four. 2012 winner Tomas Berdych has lost four of his last six matches and now faces one of the tougher non seeds in Richard Gasquet. He is 9-6 against the Frenchman but 2-2 on this surface. Kevin Anderson is the top 8 seed who may well lose early with one of Philipp Kohlschreiber or Roberto Bautista Agut best suited to knock him out in round three. Anderson lost his only clay match this year to Stefanos Tsitsipas although the Greek’s stock has been rising with every match he plays this season.
Novak Djokovic has not found his return to the court easy this year, going 5-5 so far in 2018. Losing to Martin Klizan in Barcelona is the type of result that has to raise some concern, especially after two bad losses in Miami and Indian Wells. The two-time champion has not been treated kindly by the draw with Kei Nishikori his first round opponent. Nishikori’s comeback has been more successful with a recent final in Monte Carlo. He retired in his last match in Barcelona but may inflict yet another loss on Djokovic if fit. In another match that would have two former or current top 5 players facing off early, Grigor Dimitrov will play Milos Raonic if the Canadian can beat a qualifier in round one. There are a few other troublesome players in this quarter including the other two seeds David Goffin and Lucas Pouille. Hyeon Chung will also be hoping to continue his good form in 2018, having began the clay season with a semi final run in Munich. He lost comfortably to Alexander Zverev but it remains a good start for the Korean.
Marin Cilic’s withdrawal pushes Alexander Zverev to the second seed in this event, the highest he will have been seeded in a Masters 1000 event. Zverev’s clay season has gone well so far with a semi final and a final in Monte Carlo and Munich respectively. It was on the clay last May when Zverev won Rome that he established himself as one of the elite players in the game, especially on clay. While that form hasn’t converted to slams just yet, he remains very dangerous in best of three formats. A second round with Stefanos Tsitsipas intrigues, with the 19 year old in good form recently. He followed his Barcelona final with a semi final in Estoril so it is unfortunate for him that he will run into a top player so early in the draw. John Isner beat Zverev in the Miami final for his first Masters 1000 title but the German will look to avenge that defeat should the 7th seed make it to their projected quarter final matchup. Without home advantage or his favoured surface, Zverev will be the overwhelming favourite should it happen.
Prediction – Rafael Nadal over Alexander Zverev in the final