Madrid — Saturday was one of those days you could sense from the moment it started that it would be a never-ending one.
When you have four day-session matches and every single one of them goes to three sets, you know you’re in for the long haul. Then of course, the first night-session match, which started two hours later than it should have, also went three sets.
The women’s draw kicked off on Saturday, along with men’s qualies, and there was so much action both on and off the court.
Last year’s runner-up Dominika Cibulkova was unable to do her pre-tournament press conference during All Access Hour on Friday so she sat down with the press on Saturday, which happened to be her birthday. The tournament got her a cake, and yes, we sang.
A Spanish reporter asked Cibulkova about Spain’s top two players, Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro, and turns out, they’re quite good friends.
“They are two of my favourite people on tour. With Garbine, we have nice relationship. We practice lot together. She’s really nice person. She won Roland Garros last year. I was really proud because she’s really nice person,” said Cibulkova.
“And the way she plays, you know, she’s great, aggressive player. She’s really tall. We always have fun that she cannot wear high heels, and that’s my advantage. I can wear high heels when we were at some party or something,” the
“About Carla, the same thing, you know. I really like Carla. We had so many great matches against each other. I remember last year Roland Garros, she beat me in three sets.
“It’s just, you know, always nice to play against them because we have a nice relationship. We talk a lot, even in the locker or during the practice. I practice a lot with both girls. They are really, really nice.”
Whoever said there are no friendships in the locker room was clearly wrong!
Meanwhile, I picked Karolina Pliskova’s brain on whether she prefers combined events like Madrid or Indian Wells (where both men’s and women’s tournaments are held concurrently) or WTA-only events.
The Czech world No3 said: “I got used to the combined events. But before I was preferring to have just women’s. I thought it’s, like, more quiet, not that many people, not that many eyes on you. Yeah, I could really, like, focus more on myself.
“But as the Grand Slams are combined, I have to get used to it. So it’s better now. Just trying to stay away of the people here in the club, just taking my time, leaving as soon as I can to the hotel, yeah, that’s it.”
While combined events are great for fans and journalists, it sometimes means over-booked practice courts and a rowdy players’ lounge for the athletes.
One player who tried to escape from the hustle and bustle of the lounge on Saturday was Eugenie Bouchard.
In the hours leading up to her match, Bouchard was seen lying down, covered in towels, on two lounge chairs that were pushed into a hallway that connects the press centre to the player’s area.
The last thing you expect while walking through a narrow corridor is a player sleeping on the side and for a second there I thought she was feeling ill.
The Canadian escaped after her three-set win over Alize Cornet that she was absolutely fine, but looking for some peace and quiet.
“You saw me, huh? I was in the players’ lounge. Players’ lounge these days, they sometimes turn into daycare. It was quite noisy and loud. I think they should have a separate kids section,” said the 23-year-old Bouchard.
“So that was the only place I could find peace. Although I had a bunch of you guys walking by. ‘Oh, my God, what are they going to think? I’m depressed in the corner or something, so nervous’. No, I was just trying to find some peace and quiet.”
Eugenie Bouchard is not backing down from her comments regarding Maria Sharapova and is welcoming the prospect of potentially facing the Russian – whom she has branded “a cheater” – saying she “hopes” to play her in the second round in Madrid.
Bouchard, who claimed her first-ever win in the Spanish capital on Saturday with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 victory over Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, is into the second round and awaits the winner of Sunday’s clash between Sharapova and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
The Canadian former Wimbledon runner-up was asked about Sharapova’s return from a doping suspension last month and said: “She’s a cheater and so to me, I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again.”
A lifetime ban was never on the table in Sharapova’s case, who could have received a maximum of a four-year suspension. Bouchard was asked in Madrid on Saturday about the basis on which she made those statements. She stuck by her verdict.
“It’s my personal opinion. I’ve always played true my whole career. Yeah, it’s just my opinion,” she responded.
Bouchard is not shying away from a possible showdown with Sharapova, who was given a wildcard to compete at the Caja Magica this week.
When asked about her potential second round opponents – Sharapova or Lucic-Baroni, Bouchard said: “I think they both play similar, aggressive tennis. But I hope I can play Maria.”
On whether she thinks her recent comments about Sharapova will add an extra element of tension to the match, she added: “Once I step on the court, everything will be to the side. But, you know, inside myself, I think I’ll have a bit more motivation.
“But it’s very important, once I step on the court, no matter who is on the other side, to focus on the tennis. Or else I think it’s easy to lose concentration.”
Bouchard had not won a tour-level match since the Australian Open in January and was 0-3 in Madrid going into her contest with Cornet on Saturday.
She is 8-9 win-loss in 2017 and relegated herself to the ITF Pro Circuit last month to try and get some wins under her belt. She ended up losing to Vicky Duval in the quarter-finals of the $80k tournament at Indian Harbour Beach.
“For sure, it was part of the process. I made the decision myself kind of against my coaches’, actually, opinions. I told myself, ‘Look, you can’t win a match at the WTA level. This is your punishment. You’re going down to ITF’. I didn’t even win the tournament there, which was fine,” said Bouchard, who is currently ranked No60.
“I just wanted to, like, kind of ground myself a little bit. It brought back such memories of, like, five years ago as a junior kind of playing those events. So different. You don’t need accreditation, all these weird things that just aren’t there.
“See, you’re living the good life. You need to go back and see what the real world is like, grind it out in challengers. There’s some good players there. It’s tough. You can’t just win that tournament easily, so…
“It was eye-opening, a good reality check for me. It was good, even though the result wasn’t great.”
The 23-year-old, who peaked at No5 in the world in 2014 after reaching the Wimbledon final and making semis at Roland Garros and the Australian Open, admits her fall from grace has not been easy and that she spent time “soul-searching” to try and rediscover herself and her game.
She entered Madrid coming off five tour-level opening round losses in a row.
“I’ve had a very tough couple of months. Had some really tough moments. Have just been trying to work through them,” confessed Bouchard.
“I did some soul-searching, some internal self-discovery. I worked on also external things, some of my shots.
“So, you know, it showed me that I had a lot to work on, which I’m still very much in the process of. I’m still at the very beginning of trying to improve.
“But I kept going through it. Just to get a win for me is a step because, you know, I haven’t gotten a lot of those lately. I’m going to be proud of this, yeah.”
Asked what she discovered during that period of soul-searching, Bouchard replied: “I discovered a lot of black, like my outfit,” she quipped with a smile.
“No, it’s tough. That’s the way life is. That’s the way tennis is. Yeah, I just really found out that my true team I can rely on. Tried to really realise what was going on mentally, feeling the pressures. Even though I was losing matches, I still felt pressure to win matches.
“But then I thought to myself, ‘Well, I’ve lost like five first rounds in a row, I should have nothing to lose’. I tried to change my mentality a little bit, and to also just stop worrying about external things.
“Yeah, just kind of a lot was going on. Just been slowly trying to get back on the right path.”
The Canadian says getting in touch with her emotions, instead of putting them away, has been part of her journey.
“It was a little bit of a process of discovering what emotions I was really feeling, whether it was fear or pressure, other things, and actually just facing it, maybe not just avoiding it and the thinking, I can just go through life and avoid emotions,” she explained.
“As much as I don’t like being emotional, you have to kind of confront your emotions and deal with them.
“Yeah, it was more about figuring out what’s going on, why, just being really honest with myself. Yeah, it was an important lesson that I will hopefully continue to implement, to just constantly be honest with yourself. I think that’s the most important thing.”
The French Open is three weeks away, which means players are into the business end of their clay preparations, while also stepping up their game for the Masters 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Rome.
The ATP draw was conducted on Friday evening, in the presence of a suit-clad Feliciano Lopez – who is from Toledo, which is just outside Madrid – making the Caja Magica practically home for him.
Novak Djokovic is the defending champion and Madrid will be the first tournament of his new life without his long-time coach Marian Vajda, and other members of his staff.
The Serb is seeded No2 in the Spanish capital behind 2015 champion and 2016 runner-up Andy Murray and will open his campaign against one of two home wildcards, Tommy Robredo and Nicolas Almagro.
He is slated to potentially face 15th-seeded Gael Monfils in the third round and 10th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori in the quarters.
Four-time champion Rafael Nadal is in the same half as Djokovic, with a highly-anticipated semi-final between them possibly in the cards.
Nadal, the No4 seed, is on a 10-match winning streak and begins his quest for a third consecutive ATP title against either Joao Sousa or Fabio Fognini.
He could get 16th-seeded Nick Kyrgios (who made semis here last year) in the third round and No5 seed Milos Raonic in the quarters.
The top half of the draw will see Murray possibly face some familiar foes, who have had some success against him in the past. His first match could be against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who beat him in Indian Wells in 2012.
The British world No1 could take on 13th-seeded Lucas Pouille or Mischa Zverev (beat him in Melbourne this year) in the third round, before possible quarter-final showdowns with either No12 seed Grigor Dimitrov (has three wins over him) or eighth-seeded Dominic Thiem, who took out Murray in the Barcelona semis last week.
In the semis, Murray might square off with No3 seed Stan Wawrinka, who opens against either Benoit Paire or Pablo Carreno Busta.
Andy Murray (GBR x1) v Dominic Thiem (AUT x8)
Stan Wawrinka (SUI x3) v Marin Cilic (CRO x7)
Milos Raonic (CAN x5) v Rafael Nadal (ESP x4)
Kei Nishikori (JPN x6) v Novak Djokovic (SRB x2)
Here are the main talking points ahead of Sunday’s main draw kick-off…
The Serb will face the media on Sunday just two days following his shock announcement that he has split with his head coach Vajda, his fitness coach Gebhard Gritsch and physio Miljan Amanovic.
Djokovic has been spotted around the grounds with his brother Marko in tow, but without the entourage he typically travels around with. Pepe Imaz, who is being referred to as a ‘guru’ by the media and has introduced Djokovic to his ‘Amor y Paz’ (love and peace) method, is on-site, but reports suggest he may be here with other players, not the world No2.
Imaz was asked about Djokovic by Spanish television station TDP. He said the Serb is feeling happy and fresh after spending a week in Marbella prior to the tournament. He also refused to comment about Djokovic’s decision to part ways with his coaching team but said that the relationship between Djokovic, Vajda and the rest is far more than being just a professional one.
Djokovic has a 14-4 win-loss record so far this season, with his only clay outing coming in Monte Carlo last month, where he lost to David Goffin in the quarter-finals.
He hasn’t won a title this year since he opened 2017 by defending his Doha title.
It’s unclear when he plans on hiring a new coach but it seems likely he’ll keep flying solo through the French Open, where he is the title holder.
The Spaniard has won his last 10 matches to pick up titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and will be looking to keep that run going. Last year, Nadal also came to Madrid with the same two clay titles under his belt but ended up losing to Murray in the semi-finals at the Caja Magica. His form this season though implies it would take quite an effort to beat him on his beloved surface this week.
The Caja Magica had never been a successful venue for Murray up until he shocked Nadal in the 2015 final to claim the title. He reached the final last year, but lost to Djokovic, and seems to have figured out, not just clay as a surface, but the right formula to tackle the altitude, flying balls, and different conditions of Madrid.
Barring a trophy run in Dubai, the world No1’s season has had more downs than ups thus far (he is 15-5). But Madrid could be the catalyst he needs to get back on track. It’s worked for him in the past.
Nick Kyrgios 2017 has so far looked like this: R2, SF, SF, QF, SF + three Davis Cup wins and two wins over Djokovic. That is impressive to say the least. He pulled out of Estoril because his grandfather died and Madrid will be his first clay event of the season.
He made quarters in the Spanish capital last year and beat Federer when he made his debut here in 2015. Courts should suit him, and he could face Nadal in the third round. Make it happen, tennis!