For those who like their clay a little bit faster with a dash of altitude, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz highlight a ramped up ATP Madrid Open 2022 draw. And get this: Nadal, Djokovic and Alcaraz are all in the same half of the draw.
Why the obsession with these three stars now? Nadal returns from a fractured rib sustained at Indian Wells and launches his much-anticipated clay court campaign. Currently the all-time leader in Grand Slams won at 21, Nadal will look to add another at Roland Garros– with world number one Djokovic one behind seeking to stop him. Human firework Carlos Alcaraz, winner of three ATP tournaments this year, is also aiming to position himself for Slam number one.
Madrid, a warm-up to the warm-up in Rome, has a look and feel unlike any other event on tour. The show court, Manolo Santana, has been described as having similar playing conditions to an indoor court and is one of three courts in Madrid with a retractable roof. What does this mean for viewers and fans? Serves matter more than they usually do on clay.
Nadal has won this event five times, and his topspin forehand works well in Madrid with the added altitude making the Spaniard’s balls especially jumpin-jumpin.
Top Half Madrid Open ATP Analysis
Seeing the top half of this draw, any player on this side got very unlucky. The chances of anyone other than Nadal, Djokovic or Alcaraz coming out of this half are highly unlikely. By chalk, Nadal would face Alcaraz in a potential quarterfinal while Djokovic’s next highest seed would be Casper Ruud. The world number one has been struggling to recover from a viral illness and would need to get through potentially Gael Monfils, Andy Murray or Dominic Thiem, Hubert Hurkacz, clay court star on the come-up Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and/or never-easy Roberto Bautista Agut. It’s not the toughest draw Djokovic has ever faced, but it’s not certainly not cake.
I don’t expect Nadal to go deep because he’s still in recovery, and this is not his optimal clay.
The first round eyebrow-raiser is the steel-hipped 2015 Madrid champion Andy Murray against the returning clay court stalwart Dominic Thiem. No one knows the true form of man. This match will go a long way in understanding it.
Bottom Half Madrid Open ATP Analysis
These players won the lottery by not having Djokovic, Nadal or Alcaraz in their way. An out-of-form Alexander Zverev tops the seeds at number two– and he has won the Madrid Open twice (2018, 2021). I see him finally settling down a bit and making a deep run, if not winning. The German’s speedy first serve plays especially well in Madrid, and on return, his height isn’t bothered as much by heavy kicks to the backhand.
For that same reason, I favor tall players with big serves like Taylor Fritz, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Reilly Opelka.
The first round match in this half to set the alarm for is Fritz and workhorse Jenson Brooksby. It’s a contrast in American styles. I see Fritz coming out ahead only because he’s already warmed up clay in Monte Carlo, losing to Davidovich Fokina in the quarterfinals there.
To sum up, serves mean more, and aces can be had for the big servers, but not as much as hard court or grass. It’s in between. High-altitude bounces benefit taller players. Men who prefer the timing of slower clay courts might consider Madrid their “nuisance Masters” and be looking ahead to Rome and Roland Garros. For these reasons, I’m a tad more bearish on Tsitsipas, Ruud, Diego Schwartzman, and Tommy Paul– all players you’d normally favor on clay. Grigor Dimitrov, like Tsitsipas with the one-handed backhand, is at a disadvantage with the high bounce.
My ATP players to watch in Madrid:
SF: Djokovic, Alcaraz, Fritz, Zverev
F: Alcaraz, Zverev
Madrid staggers its men’s and women’s tournament, and the ladies are underway. Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka was upset by Amanda Anisimova, an American who has shown flashes of fine form in 2022. Two-time champion Simona Halep has a new coach in Patrick Mouratoglou, but she faces Spaniard Paula Badosa in a tough test. Halep is still getting organized, and Badosa is developing into a top-flight WTA star.
Garbine Muguruza looked comfortable early in this tournament, as did Naomi Osaka, who might find this particular clay in Madrid more amenable to her big serving game. Notably, Emma Raducanu came through her first round match solidly after firing her coach again last week. The faster surface might suit her timing more than some of the other surfaces, but she’s got experience in her section with huge serving Elena Rybakina and Maria Sakkari.
My WTA players to watch in Madrid:
SF: Rybakina, Sakkari, Anisimova, Badosa
F: Rybakina, Badosa Winner: Badosa