Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2019 Mutua Madrid Open.
Remember the blue clay?
It’s already been a full seven years since, but once upon a time ahead of the 2012 edition Mutua Madrid Open tournament owner and former ATP pro (and seemingly overall asshole) Ion Tiriac just kinda shrugged and decided that the event would be played on blue clay that year.
Why? Why not, that’s why—or that’s about the reason he gave for the decision. (Not mentioned, of course, was that the color blue might have been a nod to the giant tournament sponsor Mutua Madrilena. Oh well.)
Seriously, this really happened and in 2012, players played on freakin’ blue clay in Madrid. Just look at the images on Google.
This little experiment lasted all of one season before the powers that be shelved it after some players had threatened to boycott subsequent editions if the clay stayed blue. Overall, it was all very much on-brand for this event that’s become a bit the “enfant terrible” of tennis tournaments.
Madrid, lest we forget, only started in 2002 and was first played late in the season on hard courts. That lasted from its inception until 2008. Then Tiriac arrived and we packed everything and moved it to much, much earlier in the calendar year. Now, the event is another one of those “kind of a big deal” joint WTA + ATP events, but it’s also neither Indian Wells nor Miami. It exists as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in the form a tennis tournament, something that we should pay attention to because we’re told we should.
But just how important can a clay court event be anyway if Rafael Nadal hasn’t won it more than 10 times? Smh.
But in true “kind of a big deal” event, Madrid still deserves its own draw preview and analysis. We’ll be just as wrong this time as we were previously.
.@Petra_Kvitova playing on clay in the last 12 months – ???@Petra_Kvitova talking about clay – “I don’t think I have the best game for the clay, but somehow I’m playing good.”
—> https://t.co/FBJIZqmuN7 pic.twitter.com/Xy3kGq8BWU
— WTA (@WTA) May 4, 2019
The women’s draw is absolutely loaded and, truly, what we love most is that absolutely everyone, including the favourites who get no byes whatsoever, has to win six matches before capturing the title. Here in Madrid, there are no favourites—even if, you know, there are 16 of them.
Naomi Osaka, not so long ago seen as the looming all-conquering force on the women’s tour, has seen a dip in play and form result in her lead atop the WTA rankings at no. 1 shrink to a mere 136 points. But this week could give her a bit of a reprieve: she’s got virtually nothing to defend from a year ago, while the player chasing her, as the Madrid defending champion, has no points to gain from even a victory.
In the second section, Simona Halep looms as a giant threat as she gears up for her Roland Garros title defence. She’s in a potentially tricky draw, but that depends on how a number of matches break.
As for the lower half of the draw, all eyes will be on Petra Kvitova, who first reintroduced herself to the tennis world at this event in 2018 for a victory that was unexpected as it was welcoming: so soon after the knife attack she suffered in December 2017, we had mostly been happy to see her on the courts, let alone winning a big title.
Quarterfinals: Belinda Bencic over Naomi Osaka; Simona Halep over Ashleigh Barty; Victoria Azarenka over Angelique Kerber; Petra Kvitova over Jelena Ostapenko
Semifinals: Simona Halep over Belinda Bencic; Petra Kvitova over Victoria Azarenka
Final: Simona Halep over Petra Kvitova
Over on the men’s side, we have a nice, little, 56-person, “ho-hum” main draw. A year ago, current top player Novak Djokovic couldn’t really be bothered to show up at this event and lost in the second round against Kyle Edmund in the kind of matches that he seemed to lose more often than not at the time. Fast forward to a year later, and these days the Serb has about a month to add to his lead atop the rankings before he’ll start to lose ground because of the gazillion points he has to defend the rest of the year.
In the second section of the draw, we have Roger Federer but all eyes will be on everyone’s favourite dark horse pick to win clay court events in the person of Dominic Thiem. He beat Nadal in Barcelona, you see, therefore he must be ready. Whatever, we’ll believe it when we see it in Paris.
Looking at the lower half of the draw, we can’t help but stare at Nadal’s name, as he looms larger than any- and everybody else. There was a cool first-rounder for us Canadians between Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov too, but that one was played over the weekend already. You see, it’s all about the Spaniard.
Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Nick Kyrgios; Dominic Thiem over Roger Federer; Alexander Zverev over Fernando Verdasco; Rafael Nadal over Daniil Medvedev
Semifinals: Dominic Thiem over Novak Djokovic; Rafael Nadal over Alexander Zverev
Final: Rafael Nadal over Dominic Thiem
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG