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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Friday April 30, 2021

Jannik Sinner

Without Novak Djokovic in the Madrid draw, opportunity resides on the bottom half. Take a closer look at the Madrid draw with us.

Photo Source: Mutua Madrid Open

The Madrid Open draw has been revealed and there are some enticing early round matchups to keep fans entertained at the second clay-court Masters 1000 event of 2021. Let’s take a peek under the cover of the draw, which was released on Friday evening in Madrid.

1. Nadal v Young Guns

Rafael Nadal is high on confidence after recording his 12th Barcelona Open title last week, and the Spaniard will have to be on his toes early in Barcelona as he could face a pair of hungry up-and-comers in his first two matches. After a bye, Nadal could face 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, the youngster that has already been making waves on tour in 2021. Alcaraz, a wild card at Madrid, recently reached the semifinals in Marbella, where he topped Casper Ruud and Feliciano Lopez.

Alcaraz will have to get by Adrian Mannarino in his first match if he is to have the privilege of facing Nadal; Sinner, who faced Nadal at the quarterfinals at Roland-Garros last year, will need to win two matches to set up a third-round clash with the King of Clay.

Sinner is in the midst of a solid season. He’s 18-7 with a title to his name.

Nadal’s potential quarterfinal opponent, if the seeds hold, would be Alexander Zverev. In the semis he would face either Dominic Thiem or Andrey Rublev.

2. Thiem returns

Dominic Thiem makes his return to the tour for the first time since his loss in Dubai, and nobody is quite sure what type of form the Austrian will be in. The question for Thiem isn’t about his talent, or his ability on the clay, rather it is his current motivation, and his health. The Austrian opened up in an interview with Der Standard earlier this month, expressing his desire to live a more full life outside of tennis.

“I spent 15 years chasing the big goal without looking left or right,” Thiem said. “As I said, I achieved it—under strange circumstances, but that’s not so important to me. In a way, some things have fallen by the wayside—the private life, dealing with other things, broadening the horizon. You have to do something for your head, for your brain. There was only tennis. I want to change that a bit.”

Thiem has also struggled staying healthy. He had foot issues while playing in Australia and the Middle East, and he pulled out of last week’s Serbia Open with a knee injury. He has only played nine matches in 2021, going 5-4.

The Austrian’s stated goal has been to peak for Roland Garros, but it’s not clear if he’ll be able to do that this year, given all that is going on with him, mentality-wise and health-wise. We’ll start to get our clues tomorrow, when he does his pre-tournament press, and early next week, when he starts his tournament by facing a qualifier in round two (after a bye).

If the seeds hold Thiem would face Grigor Dimitrov in the round of 16 and Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals. If he finds his way through all those challenges, it would be Nadal in the semis. We are going to learn a lot about the current form of Dominic Thiem this week.

3. First-rounders to Cherish

The top eight seeds get byes in Madrid, so the first-round matchups won’t be all that star-studded, but we like these four:

Aslan Karatsev v Ugo Humbert (winner faces No.7-seeded Diego Schwartzman)
Casper Ruud v Felix Auger-Aliassime (winner faces Cameron Norrie or Filip Krajinovic)
Kei Nishikori v Karen Khachanov (winner faces Alexander Zverev)
Dusan Lajovic v Denis Shapovalov (winner faces Bublik or Fucsovics)

4. Medvedev Returns from Covid to Clay

Daniil Medvedev—he of the 10-18 lifetime record on clay—makes his return after testing positive for Covid-19 at Monte-Carlo. First order of business will be making sure that he’s healthy enough to grind on the clay a bit. Second, Medvedev will have to start to tackle his clay phobia. The Russian has made no secret of talking about how he doesn’t enjoy playing on the surface, but if he ever intends to claim the No.1 ranking, he’ll need to pick up some massive points on the clay.

The No.2 seed will face either Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or a qualifier in the second round (after a bye) and he could face 16th-seeded Cristian Garin in the third round. We’ll be impressed if he can make it through those two. If he does, a potential quarterfinal with Matteo Berrettini awaits.

5. Opportunity Knocks on the Lower Half

Without Novak Djokovic in the draw, and with Daniil Medvedev not quite in form, there is a tremendous opportunity to make the semis or even the final on the lower quarter of the lower half. Stefanos Tsitsipas, seeded fourth, and Diego Schwartzman, seeded seventh, look ready for a semi-final run in this half, but down in the bottom quarter, where No.8 Matteo Berrettini, No.10 Pablo Carreno Busta, No.16 Cristian Garin and No.2 Medvedev are the seeds, there will be a chance for a breakthrough run at a Masters 1000.


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