Rafael Nadal, a five-time champion, will begin his bid for a sixth ATP Madrid Open title on Wednesday against his compatriot Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal is aiming for his second title of the season, having won the title in Barcelona only a few days ago. In a three-set thriller in the final, the Spaniard beat world #5 Stefanos Tsitsipas after saving a match point.
“Barcelona [was] an important week for me. Without playing my best since the beginning, I was able to be passionate, to stay positive and to accept the challenge [and] try to win matches without playing my best,” Nadal said. “I was able to achieve another important title in my career. That’s important for my confidence. I really believe that winning these kinds of tournaments when you are not playing that well can then make a big difference for the next ones. I feel that that was a positive week. Now is another week, and I hope to be ready.”
The 20-time major champion had a tough start to the season, losing in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to Tsitsipas, despite winning the first two sets, and then to Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals at the ATP Monte Carlo Masters. Nadal is attempting to build momentum ahead of the French Open, where he will be hoping to break Roger Federer’s record for the most Grand Slam titles won.
Nadal tied the record by dismissing Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the final at Roland Garros last year. This season, the French Open has been delayed by a week due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic but the stands will at least be 35% full in Paris when the tournament begins.
Alcaraz, his first opponent in Madrid, has established himself as one of the stars of the future after winning three Challengers, with his most recent triumph coming six months ago in October, and the 17-year-old has also claimed some memorable wins at tour-level. In his opener in Madrid, he swept past former-world #22 Adrian Mannarino for the loss of only four games. The young Spaniard, who has always looked up to Nadal like so many of his compatriots, will now have the opportunity to play his idol.
If Nadal can get past his teenaged countryman, the five-time champion has what looks like quite a tough draw ahead of him. Possible opponents are Jannik Sinner in the third round, Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals, Dominic Thiem in the semifinals, and Daniil Medvedev or Tsitsipas in the final. Nonetheless, on his favored clay, Nadal has proved time and time again that a tough draw is only mere challenge when he’s healthy and rested.
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