The ATP tour comes to Madrid in an unusual state of flux. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are all fit and playing, but for the first time in a long time, they each look vulnerable.
Rather than kick on after his dominance in Melbourne, the world no.1 has struggled. Djokovic has played three tournaments since the Australian Open and only has one quarterfinal (Monte-Carlo) to boast about.
Meanwhile, the King of Clay has had to keep that trophy cabinet expansion on hold. The Spaniard was outplayed by Fabio Fognini in the semis of Monte-Carlo and outhit by Dominic Thiem in the last four of Barcelona.
Finally, we get to returning maestro Roger Federer. The 37-year-old will grace the Caja Magica for the first time since 2015. Federer is a six-time former champion in the Spanish capital, but hasn’t hit the dirt in quite some time.
Barcelona winner Dominic Thiem looks most dangerous player this week and I’ve also selected three other players who could surprise this week.
Favourite: Dominic Thiem
This one is easy enough.
The Austrian comes to Madrid just off a title win in Barcelona where he outhit 11-time champion Rafael Nadal in the semi-final, and outfoxed Daniil Medvedev in the final.
Thiem is in magnificent form and will hope to go one better in a tournament where he has been back-to-back runner-up. His draw could definitely help him with this pursuit.
The 25-year-old has a bye in the first round and will play Pablo Carreno Busta or a qualifier in the second. If Thiem is to reach the business end of the week, he may have to topple Monte-Carlo champ Fabio Fognini in the third round and Roger Federer in the quarters. On current form, that route looks manageable.
The adaptable Russian is brimming with confidence as he leads the tour in match wins with 25. His victims this year include Djokovic, Kei Nishikori, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Milos Raonic.
The 23-year-old has enjoyed superb results in recent weeks with a run to the semi-final of Monte-Carlo followed by a surge to the final of Barcelona.
Medvedev is in Nadal’s section and can be spoiler yet again. He should get past Guido Pella in his opener and could face Stan Wawrinka in the second. Can he set-up a last eight clash with Rafa?
The Italian entered the 2018 season outside the top 100, but finished inside the top 20 – all thanks to his feats on clay.
If it’s slipped your mind with Brexit and Game of Thrones, the 25-year-old was the shock semi-finalist in Paris who sent Novak Djokovic home in the quarters.
A clay court specialist, Cecchinato has again picked up the majority of his 2019 ranking points on the dirt. He won Buenos Aires in February and is into the last four of Munich at the moment.
He could just be the surprise of Djokovic’s section. Cecchinato has been drawn against the tricky, but out of sorts Diego Schwartzman first up. He could get face Jeremy Chardy next and then that big showdown with the world no.1. Can lightning strike twice?
After his brilliant start to the year, things haven’t exactly gone Tsits up for the Greek, but he has gone a little quiet.
The Australian Open semi-finalist lost in the first round of Indian Wells and only picked up a handful of victories in Miami, Monte-Carlo and Barcelona. However, he may have turned the corner this week with at least a semi-final run in Estoril.
Also in his favour, Tsitsipas finds himself in an interesting section in Madrid with the currently befuddled Alex Zverev.
The German has really struggled for wins and is highly vulnerable. Tsitsipas has a bye in the first round and will play Joao Sousa or a qualifier in his next match. He’s projected to meet Karen Khachanov in the third round and Zverev or Borna Coric in the quarters. They are all winnable matches for such a special talent.