Rafael Nadal returns to Madrid Masters and will be eyeing his sixth title at Caja Magica next week. The World No.2 is brimming with confidence after his triumph in Barcelona last week for the 12th time. With the withdrawal of Novak Djokovic, the Spaniard will now be the top seed at the event.
Despite all his heroics, the King of Clay has not got his juggernaut rolling consistently in the Spanish capital. While he has amassed titles elsewhere on the dirt, Madrid has dished out some tough losses for Nadal. As fate would have it, he once again finds himself placed in a very tough quarter of the draw, with several top seeds lurking.
The five-time winner at the event will start his campaign on Wednesday against either Adrian Mannarino or Carlos Alcaraz. While Nadal should prevail without much issues in the opener, his biggest test will come in the form of Jannik Sinner in the third-round, if the 14th seed gets past Guido Pella from Argentina in the opening round. The Italian sensation has been creating quite a stir on the tour this year, owing to his courageous play.
As the tennis fraternity waits in anticipation, let’s look at a few factors as to why the 19-year-old can stun the King of Clay in the Spanish capital.
Altitude & Faster Court
Madrid’s altitude means that the balls will fly quicker through the air, as compared to the other clay court venues. This has historically taken advantage away from Nadal, who finds it difficult to keep his opponents behind the baseline consistently. Moreover, the Spaniard’s top spin gets neutralized due to the faster conditions, which allows his opponents to attack him from inside the baseline.
Sinner’s backhand to Nadal’s forehand
As we have seen through this season, the Italian has been pounding his backhands from the back court. His ability to open up the court with his cross court backhand has been impressive. We even saw him matching the big names on the clay this year stroke-for-stroke. Although he lost to Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo, the way the two traded their backhands was a treat to the eyes.
Over the years, we have seen how the Serb opens up the court by attacking Nadal’s forehand. If Sinner can deploy a similar tactic, by slamming the backhand hard into Nadal’s forehand, he will certainly cause problems to the Spaniard.
Vulnerability early on in the tournament
The World No.2 might have won couple of other clay court tournaments a dozen times, but his record in Madrid doesn’t do justice to his unmatched, clay court credentials. Despite winning the tournament five times, Nadal has been shocked regularly (2012 loss to Fernando Verdasco on the blue clay) and (quarterfinals defeat in 2018 against Dominic Thiem).
Nadal has also been out-gunned three times in the finals at Caja Magica. As we have seen in the past, Nadal is vulnerable in the early rounds, regardless of the tournament and surface. If Sinner can exploit any visible chinks in the Spaniard’s armour, we could be in for an interesting contest.
While the top seed remains the favourite, Sinner has been playing the best tennis of his life too. Let us not be shocked, if the young Italian springs in a surprise on Thursday.