Sunday, May 3, 2015

Madrid Open Preview

The Madrid Open may be missing the best player in the world in Novak Djokovic, but the otherwise loaded Masters field should provide plenty of intriguing matchups.  With the clay court season well underway players have made their adjustment to the dirt, and are in the process of fine-tuning their games for the approaching French Open.

Federer is the top seed, but probably not the favorite after looking shaky in Istanbul despite taking the title.  It doesn't look like he'll have any easy matches along the way, as he could open with the talented Nick Kyrgios before having to face John Isner, Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal on his way to the finals.  However, Isner is the pick to pull the upset over Federer in the round of 16.  Federer will be coming off a busy week in Istanbul and may not be fully ready (mentally or physically) for Madrid. 

Waiting for Isner in the quarters will be Tomas Berdych, who will have to get through a tricky section including Gasquet, Karlovic, Sock and Tsonga.  Sock should be able to get past Andujar and the still coming back Tsonga, but will likely fall short against Berdych, who is currently 2nd in the ATP Race to London.  In the quarters, expect Berdych to take his winning streak against the American to five, as he's just a little to solid for the unpredictable Isner.

Nadal is the heavy favorite to reach the semis out of the next section, even if he's playing like a shell of his former self.  He should coast into the quarterfinals, before facing Wawrinka or Dimitrov.  While its tough to pick Dimitov to reach much of anything these days, he should be able to reach the quarters based on his beneficial draw.  If Wawrinka isn't affected by his personal issues (as he was in Monte Carlo) perhaps this will be different, but Dimitrov gets the honor of falling to Nadal in straights in the quarters.

Ferrer's section includes lots of talented Spaniards and the not yet fully back Marin Cilic, and it's hard to see someone topping Ferrer before the quarters.  To make the semis Ferrer will likely have to beat the 4th seed Kei Nishikori.  Ferrer may have won their last matchup, but Nishikori won the 5 before that and is the pick to reach the semifinals. 

The bottom of the draw features Milos Raonic and Andy Murray.  While there are some solid players in this section, it's hard to see anyone keeping these two seeds from playing in the quarters unless Murray is feeling the effects of a busy week in Munich.  13th seed Gael Monfils is the most likely to take advantage of a sluggish Murray, but the world number three should be able to sneak past the talented Frenchman.  However, Raonic will have a good chance to knock out Murray in the quarters and should be able to pull the minor upset.  He'll be the fresher of the two and hold a 3-2 career edge, including a win in the pair's only prior match on clay.

In the first semifinals look for Berdych to continue his very solid 2015 with a win over Nadal.  Picking Berdych over Nadal on clay (or any surface) may never seem right, but based on Nadal's form this year it's hard to justify picking him to reach the finals. 

In the second semifinals between emerging rivals Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, Nishikori should be able to get past the big serving Canadian in three sets.  He holds a 5-2 head-to-head edge, and is the better player on clay.  Raonic isn't bad on the dirt himself, but his game is naturally better suited to a quicker hard court.  Raonic will put up a good fight, but it will have to settle for a semifinal performance in Madrid.

While Berdych may be having an excellent season by most standards, there's one thing he doesn't seem to do- actually win tournaments.  Because of this, and Nishikori's 3-1 head-to-head advantage, Nishikori is the pick to take the title.  Berdych is having the better season of the two so far, but never seems to be able to seal the deal at the ends of tournaments.  Nishikori has had better luck in finals (we're not going to knock him here for falling to an in the zone Cilic in the US Open finals) and should gain lots of clay court confidence after taking the title in Madrid.

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