Madrid awaits the elite

Antonio Arenas Mutua News

The Mutua Madrid Open has a select list of winners. To lift the Ion Tiriac trophy to the sky in the Spanish capital requires more than just talent, it also takes a legendary career. At least, so it seems from a quick look at the tournament’s champions since it moved to the Caja Mágica clay in 2009. Since then, only the Big 4, formed by Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, have been able to get their hands on the prestigious ATP Masters 1000 trophy, with the exception of Alexander Zverev, who snuck onto this select list last season.

The 22-year-old German, whose age means he is the man charged with taking the baton from the “fantastic four” in the medium term, will be back in Madrid this season to defend the crown he made his in 2018. And he will have to do so in a very special edition of the tournament, with an aroma of vintage tennis and a taste of legends. The Caja Mágica will once again bring together players that have defined the history of this sport, and also of this event, in the twenty-first century. Thus, if Sascha wants to successfully defend his title, he will have to do so against names such as Nadal, Djokovic and Federer, who is playing on clay again after a three-year absence.

And, as if that weren’t enough, this Mutua Madrid Open will provide a blank page on which two legends of the Spanish game will be writing an emotional letter. For David Ferrer, it will be a goodbye message, as it will be the end of his career as a player; while Feliciano López will be writing words of welcome as he begins a new stage of his career in the director’s box. But these won’t be the only stories that are told in Madrid. Everything is now ready for the show to begin, so come in, get comfortable and enjoy!

N is for Nadal

Which player has won the most Mutua Madrid Open titles? Who has played in the most finals? Has anyone won the trophy when it was played on indoor hard court and also at its current home on clay? Who was the youngest champion in the history of the tournament? Has anyone ever successfully defended their crown? All these questions have just one answer; Rafael Nadal.

The Mallorcan’s trophy cabinet houses five titles from Madrid (2005, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2017) and he has played in a total of eight finals (2009, 2011, 2015). In addition, along with Federer and Murray, he has the privilege of having won on both surfaces that the tournament has been played on. And he is the only player to have successfully defended a title claimed the previous year (2013-14).

This impressive record makes him the player with the most victories at the tournament, with a total of 49. Therefore, this year he will be attempting to break the barrier of 50 matches won at an ATP Masters 1000 tournament, something that he has also done in Indian Wells, Monte Carlo and Rome.

Nadal’s commitment to the Mutua Madrid Open has been unquestionable. So much so that this year he will equal the record for participations held by Feliciano López, who played 17 tournaments. In addition, in the ten seasons that the tournament has been held on clay, he has always reached at least the quarter-finals, except in 2012, when he bowed out in the third round to another veteran of the competition, Fernando Verdasco, who this year, like the Mallorcan and the Toledo native, will also be notching up his 17th season playing at the tournament.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion is back in the Caja Mágica to try and reclaim what was wrestled from his hands in 2018, when he lost in the quarter finals to Dominic Thiem.

Welcome, Mr. Federer

After a three-year absence, Roger Federer has once again added to clay to his annual schedule. And the Mutua Madrid Open is one of the obligatory stops that the Swiss has circled on his calendar to compete on the slowest surface; it seems the Manolo Santana Stadium is the one that best suits his game because of the altitude of the Spanish capital. More importance is placed on his serve than on other clay courts and he can speed his game up more than at other red-dust venues, consequently he has won the Ion Tiriac trophy more than any other ATP Masters 1000 on clay.

This Swiss has no titles from Monte Carlo, where he lost in the finals in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2014, or Rome, a tournament where he has suffered the same luck, bowing out in the decider in 2003, 2006, 2013 and 2015. In addition, to add to Federer’s love affair with Madrid, he boasts being the only player to have won on indoor hard court (2006), red clay (2009) and blue clay (2012).

At 37 years of age, the Basel native is one of the favourites, as always when he is in the starting blocks at any ATP tournament. His last participation was back in 2015, when he provided one of the greatest matches at the tournament that year against Nick Kyrgios, which the Australian ended up taking 7-6(2), 6-7(5), 6-7(12).

But his best results came between 2009 and 2012. In those four years, Federer played in three finals and a further semi-final, and he also produced one of the greatest chapters in his ATP Masters 1000 rivalry with Nadal. This time we may have another great opportunity to see them face to face with clay as their judge.

All against Zverev

Without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges is to repeat success, or what is known in the tennis world as defending a title. It is so difficult, in fact, that in the history of the Mutua Madrid Open it has only been achieved once. Everyone who has attempted it has failed, apart from Nadal on one occasion. Now is the turn of Alexander Zverev, the only player who has been able to get among the Big 4 by adding his name to the trophy along with Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray.

The German has found a place among the ATP’s elite and his 22 years of age do nothing to prevent him from being considered one of the contenders for the biggest titles on tour and maybe even to reach the top of the ranking, why not? Just analysing his numbers in the Caja Mágica adds weight to his candidacy. He has only played in the tournament twice, but he has an intimidating record of 8-1. Only Pablo Cuevas has managed to beat him on the Madrid clay, and on his way he has left plenty of names in his wake who traditionally do well in the Spanish capital, such as Tomas Berdych, Fernando Verdasco and Dominic Thiem.

This season he will have the third chance in his career to defend an ATP Masters 1000 title. Last year he was unsuccessful in Rome and Canada, the first two tournaments he won in the category in 2017. He will be hoping it is third time lucky. But to be successful, apart from seeing off the attempts of Nadal or Federer, he will have to beat other opponents such as Djokovic, who has recovered his aura of immortality from days of old. Even on clay.

The Serb knows what it is to win in Madrid as he did so in 2011 and 2016, the only two times he has appeared in the final. This season he will certainly want to remove the thorn from his side left by Kyle Edmund, who sent him packing in the second round last year.

Ferrer and other hopefuls

This trio of favourites are followed by other, no less interesting stories at the 2019 Mutua Madrid Open. One of the most special is that of David Ferrer, who has chosen the Caja Mágica as the last stage he will grace as a professional. At 37 years of age, on the Madrid clay, he will bring an end to one of Spanish tennis’ most successful careers, which included 27 ATP titles and peaking at number 3 in the world ranking. In Madrid, his performances have been no less brilliant. Consistent, as he has been throughout his career, he reached the quarter-finals in six of his nine appearances on clay, his best results coming in 2010 (lost to Federer) and 2014 (lost to Nishikori), when he reached the semi-finals.

Thiem is another player to have played a starring role in recent years. His tennis comes to life in the Manolo Santana Stadium, but he has fallen at the final hurdle on two occasions. The first time, in 2017, he lost to Nadal and the second was last season against Zverev. The 25-year-old Austrian has won 77% of his 13 matches in Madrid and will be one of the biggest ‘outsiders’ again this year.

A player such as Juan Martín del Potro should not be written off either. Although it is true that his last significant performance here came in 2012, when he reached the semis, something he first did in 2009, the Argentine has everything it takes to lift the trophy. Last year he said his goodbyes in the third round in a tight match against Dusan Lajovic (6-3, 4-6, 6-7(6)).

The Madrid clay has also proved to be a good stomping ground for Kei Nishikori, a finalist in 2014. Fate has had it though that he has crossed paths with Djokovic in Madrid in the last three years. Finally, in front of the home crowd, players such as Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreño Busta and Fernando Verdasco are becoming increasingly dangerous. Whatever happens though, everyone will share the same dream at the offset; to lift the trophy on Sunday 12 May.