Madrid Open Preview
The clay-court season is in full bloom and, over the last few weeks, the players on the ATP tour have been finding their feet and adjusting to what is traditionally the toughest surface to conquer.
And the European swing continues this week with the tour arriving at Madrid for the Mutua Madrid Open for the second ATP1000 event of the year.
It's all part of the build-up to the second Grand Slam of the year at Roland Garros, due to begin on May 30th.
Thirteen-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal appears in fine fettle after an indifferent start to his clay season following defeat to Andrey Rublev at the quarter-final stage in Monte Carlo a fortnight ago.
But the Spaniard - five-time winner and top seed this week in Madrid - showed he is still the man to beat after he claimed his twelfth Barcelona Open last Sunday, coming through a gruelling final against in-form Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The rising Greek youngster was arguably the favourite going into that match against Nadal after claiming the title in Monte Carlo and only dropped his first set on clay this year when losing to the Mallorcan.
Tsitsipas will be looking to take the lessons learned in defeat into the Spanish Capital and will fancy his chances following the announcement Novak Djokovic isn't playing this week.
The world number one has opted against making the journey to the Caja Magica. The tournament made the revelation on Twitter alongside a quote from the defending champion, saying “Sorry that I won’t be able to travel to Madrid this year and meet all my fans".
Djokovic, who has openly admitted his main focus is the Grand Slams, has yet to fire on the red ash this year, losing to British number one Dan Evans in Monte Carlo and falling at the semi-final stage of his home tournament in Belgrade last week.
The man to inflict that defeat at the Serbia Open, much to the dismay of those courtside, was the man who is arguably the hottest player of the tennis season this year - Aslan Karatsev.
The Russian, beaten by Djokovic at the Australian Open semi-finals in February, already has an ATP title to his name and continues to surprise and prove he belongs at the top of the men's game. He withdrew from the Munich Open last week in preparation for Madrid and will be one to keep an eye on.
He was pipped to the title in Serbia by Italian Matteo Berrettini and the man from Rome will be looking to build on his fourth ATP Tour title following his return from an abdominal injury.
Another man returning from injury is world number four Dominic Thiem who has had a below-par season so far after winning last year's US Open. Thiem loves the clay and tipped to be the man to succeed Nadal in dominating the clay courts, but with a lack of form and a lack of matches under his belt, Madrid might be just too soon for the Austrian.
Daniil Medvedev has not set foot on a tennis court recently following testing positive for coronavirus on the eve of the Monte Carlo event. And the 24-year-old Russian concedes that the red dirt isn't his favourite surface firmly stating “Honestly, there’s nothing I like on clay. There’s always bad bounces, you’re dirty after playing. I really don’t enjoy playing on clay.”