Previewing the men’s field at the Madrid Open

Patrick Mouratoglou

The French Open begins three weeks from today but not before back-to-back men's 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Rome. Busted Racquet insider Patrick Mouratoglou breaks down the men's field at the first of clay court's big three, Madrid:

Will Nadal/Djokovic battle?

Everybody is waiting for this duel between Novak Djokovic, the most impressive player at the start of this season, who is currently on a 29-match winning streak, and Rafael Nadal who is the past and present boss on clay, having won back-to-back in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. The Serbian was smart to avoid Rafa for his return on clay by skipping Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He knows how much the result of their first encounter will matter for the French Open so he decided to take his time and to make his first steps on clay by winning an easy tournament Belgrade. In doing so, he won a new bit of confidence before going for a fight with Nadal.

The Spaniard was quick to jump on the surface and instantly gained whatever confidence he needed in dispatching the fields in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Even when playing average, his margin over the opponents is sufficient to win. Nevertheless, he knows that in order to beat Djokovic, he can't play the same way. The depth of his shots isn't at its best and the Serbian will take advantage of all of his flaws. It appears to me that Rafa has lost confidence - and efficiency - on his backhand. You can bet that's what he was working on this week as he prepared for Madrid.

Federer and Soderling's letdown

Roger Federer didn't reassure us at all on clay, a surface he mastered in his best years but recently reminded him his issues of the moment. His plodding footwork leads him to suffer and to commit more mistakes on his backhand and also to lose efficiency on his forehand because he takes the ball earlier than before. On clay, which slows the ball, his serve also becomes less decisive. Notice the addition of kick serves into his game recently, a trick which he hopes will give him a slight advantage in service games. If his game is still enough to beat most of the field, he looks way more fragile against players like Murray, Del Potro, Djokovic or Nadal.

Soderling is also struggling. Disturbed by a foot injury, he's not finding his best level back. Even if he likes clay because it gives him enough time to move and organize himself, it's also an issue for him because of his footwork, which is exacerbated more now with this injury. He's not arriving in Madrid in the best conditions but will hope to find some confidence points for Roland Garros, where he's been a finalist in each of the past two years.{YSP:more}

The return of Juan Martin Del Potro

The comeback is on. Stuck away from the court for a full year, he's slowly but surely coming back to his best level. He could totally become a serious outsider for the French Open.

Murray is still a mystery

Andy Murray is an enigma. Absolutely non-existent since his loss in the Australian Open final, he jumped back in the game at Monte Carlo, performing well on his worst surface and became the only one to push Nadal to a third set. He seems to be back on the right path sooner than last year when he struggled until Wimbledon. But the Scotsman is as capable of the best as he is the worst. It's impossible to predict anything with him until he stabilizes his team (he quit with Alex Corretja not long ago and still hasn't replaced him). His elbow injured at Monte Carlo, Murray withdrew from Barcelona and will make his come back in Madrid.

Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic against the top

Madrid and Rome will also be the opportunity to get a closer look on the young up-and-coming players we've been following for a long time. They'll get the chance to play against the best players and to see how far or close they are and what they still have to do in order to play up to the level of the top.