Triumph in the Caja Mágica requires a good dose of mutual understanding, reflex and intuition. Nowhere is this truer than in the discipline of doubles. The best pairs in the world will be back on the clay of the Mutua Madrid Open in search of one of the most coveted titles of the season. The altitude of the Spanish capital gives the ball an injection of energy, making doubles matches even more frenzied than normal. Only the most skilful are able to master the conditions and fight for the cup in the Manolo Santana Stadium. With a cast full of specialists, the competition promises to be exceptional.
A wonderful ATP tournament
The range of pairs ready to master the Caja Mágica is huge in 2019. And the chance of seeing some new champions seems to be too. Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya took the crown in Madrid last season, but an operation on his right elbow has left the brilliant Austrian doubles player on the side-lines since the start of the season. So who are the candidates to take the baton?
US players Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan are part of the Mutua Madrid Open’s living history. Five-time champions in the Spanish capital, including three crowns in the Caja Mágica, the American veterans appear to have a new lease of life. In 2018 they were back in the final after a four-year absence and they are looking like a well-oiled machine. Bob’s return after a hip implant has seen him return to the tour in force. In terms of mutual understanding, few can better the Bryans.
Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo look ready to renew their title. The Polish and Brazilian, champions in 2017, know the secrets of the Spanish capital better than most and they will be among the favourites. In their third season as a full-time team, confidence at key moments will be established as in few other teams. This is a factor that could be fundamental in the Caja Mágica.
French players Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert come to Madrid in the form of their lives. The current French Open champions are looking to underline their dominance on clay with a colossal performance. In January they completed their career Grand Slam, confirming them as some of the main doubles specialists of the current era and the Madrid crown could be an exceptional addition to their trophy cabinet. At a tournament that has never seen a French winner, Mahut has already played in a doubles final in 2017 (alongside Roger-Vasselin). Golden candidates.
Henri Kontinen and John Peers form a consistent partnership. The Finn and Australian have won a Masters 1000 every year for the last three seasons. After reaching the final of the first Grand Slam of the year, their relevance in the Caja Mágica seems to be guaranteed. Kontinen’s power matched with the fast hands of Peers make them a team that is as versatile as it is attractive. They have never reached the quarter-finals in Madrid, but they have proven that they have the weapons required to go all the way on the Spanish clay.
In a draw replete with hopefuls, pairs like those formed by Jamie Murray/Bruno Soares, Oliver Marach/Mate Pavic and Juan Sebastián Cabal/Robert Farah will guarantee a close fight in the Caja Mágica.
New queens in Madrid?
The women’s competition represents an opportunity for new champions. The 2018 edition was won by current Olympic champions Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova after a demonstration of genuine dominance on the Madrid clay. However, Vesnina became a mother last November and uncertainty regarding her immediate return is a clear opportunity for the rest of the teams to conquer the Caja Mágica.
Among the main candidates are the duo formed by Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic, one of the teams with the most joint experience on the women’s circuit. The Hungarian and Frenchwoman were runners-up at last year’s Mutua Madrid Open and they will be hoping that their aggressive style will help lead them to victory in the Spanish capital. In addition, the Eastern European, who reached world number 1 in the doubles ranking last season, has the tournament in her sights after reaching the final in the last two seasons with different partners (in 2017 she played in the decider with Czech player Andrea Hlavackova).
Czech players Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova will be a team others should be wary of in the Caja Mágica. The best pair of the season in 2018 is looking to re-establish its authority with a prestigious title in Madrid. With youth on their side, at 22 and 23 years of age respectively, the Central Europeans are breathing new life into a format that is usually dominated by veterans. No team came close to their consistency last year. The current French Open and Wimbledon champions will be looking to show that Spain is also within their reach.
On a tour that is in constant evolution, the reunion of sisters Latisha Chan and Hao-Ching Chan has revolutionised the start of the 2019 season. The Taiwanese players have demonstrated impressive solidity, to the point that they were leading the WTA Race at the turn of spring. Experience will not be a problem for the Asian pair; the powerful Latisha won the 2017 Mutua Madrid Open alongside Martina Hingis, in a season in which she became the world number 1. The chance to return to the peak with her sister may prove to be the incentive required to win on the clay. Nobody can write them off.
Spain’s most likely contender will again be María José Martínez-Sánchez. The player from Yecla will join forces with the Slovenian Andreja Klepac in the one of the most frequent pairings on the women’s tour. The Caja Mágica has never had a home winner and the fans will have someone to cheer for in the Murcia native as she pursues this goal.
Other well-versed pairs such as that formed by the Australian Samantha Stosur and the Chinese Shuai Zheng, champions of the 2019 Australian Open, and the team of the Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski and the Chinese Xu Yifan promise to produce a truly open tournament.