The clay season is now in full swing now with the first of two back to back Masters 1000 events happening on the dirt in Madrid. Alexander Zverev looks to defend his title but most attention will be focused on Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The Spaniard is without a title in 2019 coming into Madrid while Djokovic has been in fairly disappointing form following his Australian Open title.
Full draw here: Madrid Masters men’s 2019 Draw
After winning his third straight grand slam in Melbourne, it was expected that Djokovic would clean up on the tour and further extend his lead at No.1 in the rankings. It hasn’t quite been the case with just a 5-3 record since then, with losses coming to Philipp Kohlschreiber, Daniil Medvedev and Roberto Bautista Agut. Some suggest that Djokovic is only focused on peaking for the slams but these three losses against players outside of the top stars do raise a little concern. He remains the overwhelming favourite to make the final on his side but there are a number of players who would be ready to take advantage of a distracted Djokovic nonetheless.
Marco Cecchinato does have a notable clay win over Djokovic in the past 12 months but will need to beat Diego Schwartzman to get there, the Argentinian also being a very solid clay player. A returning Juan Martin Del Potro may have had a chance with more buildup but it will likely be too early for him to pick up a statement win. With semi final points to defend at Roland Garros, he will be aiming to peak there. Nick Kyrgios plays on clay for the first time since last April, hoping finally make the step up this year. He has had good wins in the past in Madrid, beating Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
With just a 56 man draw, the tournament is far more compact with big matchups happening much earlier. Roger Federer makes his return to the clay and could well face off against an opponent he has dominated in the past. He is 16-2 against Richard Gasquet but the alternative opponent of Alejandro Davidovich-Fokina offers far more interest. The 2017 Wimbledon junior champion is finally making a name for himself on the main tour and comes into Madrid with at least a semi final at Estoril. He picked up a win over Gael Monfils on the way there, himself in this quarter of the draw. Despite that loss, the Frenchman is back in the top 20 after a strong start to 2019. Two of the players responsible for denying Rafael Nadal titles in the early part of the year will be aiming to pick up more big name wins in this draw too. Fabio Fognini and Dominic Thiem are projected to play in the third round with the winner expecting to meet Roger Federer in the final. Thiem in particular has to be seen as a legitimate threat to win the title as well as the French Open at the end of the month. After beating Nadal on the way to the Barcelona title, he now has a win over the Spaniard in four straight years on the surface.
Alexander Zverev is going to need to make major improvements if he is to defend his 2018 title. He comes into Madrid out of form and in danger of losing his top 4 ranking if he continues to struggle. He has a losing record on clay in 2019, taking losses to the likes of Jaume Munar and Nicolas Jarry so far while also losing a lengthy three setter in Munich to Christian Garin earlier in the week. Roberto Bautista Agut should fancy his chances if he can get past a retiring David Ferrer. Stefanos Tsitsipas aims to continue his rise up the rankings with the eighth seed full of confidence after making the Estoril final this weekend. The draw provides a good opportunity for him or Karen Khachanov to make the semi finals and perhaps further.
Rafael Nadal is still the comfortable favourite to win the title but there is no doubt that his air of invincibility that surrounds him is disappearing a bit. His loss to Dominic Thiem in Barcelona was not that bad but losing to Fabio Fognini will have been a huge disappointment for him in Monte Carlo. If you had to pinpoint the player most likely of springing a shock win, it would probably have to be the winner of the first round matchup between the two up and coming young Canadians in Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Both are fairly fearless in their game style although the crowd boost that may come from an underdog against the elite players will not be found here. One of Kei Nishikori‘s best career tournaments came in Madrid 5 years ago when he was so close to beating Nadal before his body let him down and he was forced to retire. Nishikori also has a great chance to avenge his Barcelona loss to Daniil Medvedev, with the pair projected for a third round meeting.
SF: Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer
SF: Rafael Nadal def. Stefanos Tsitsipas
F: Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal