Novak Djokovic’s search for a first title since Eastbourne last June just got tougher as the Serb was handed a brutal opener in Madrid against former top-five player Kei Nishikori.
While Djokovic is 11-2 head-to-head against Nishikori, and has won his last 10 straight matches against him, the Japanese has been finding his form recently, and made the Monte Carlo final a couple of weeks ago.
Djokovic has played just 10 matches in 2018 and is 5-5 this season.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion has landed in a loaded quarter of the draw that also includes eighth-seeded David Goffin, South Korean Chung Hyeon, who ousted Djokovic from the Australian Open last January, Marrakech finalist Kyle Edmund, French No. 15 seed Lucas Pouille, talented Canadian Denis Shapovalov and third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov.
Should Djokovic get past Nishikori in round one, who faces either Edmund or Daniil Medvedev, who practiced with the Serb on Friday at the Caja Magica.
Defending champion and top seed Rafael Nadal has a bye in the first round and will begin his assault on a sixth Madrid trophy against either Frenchman Gael Monfils or a qualifier.
Nadal, who is on a 19-match winning streak on clay and has claimed his last 46 consecutive sets on the surface, will be looking to add the Madrid crown to the Monte Carlo and Barcelona ones he clinched last month.
The Spaniard is seeded to potentially face fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals, in what would be a rematch of last year’s Madrid final.
Sharing the same half of the draw are fourth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro and sixth-seeded Kevin Anderson.
Djokovic’s potential path:
F: Nadal/Del Potro
Other notable first rounds:
Pablo Carreno-Busta (ESP x9) v Borna Coric
Richard Gasquet (FRA) v Tomas Berdych (CZE x14)
Lucas Pouille (FRA x15) v Benoit Paire (FRA)
Simona Halep will be looking to become the first WTA three-time champion at the Madrid Open but standing in her way are a string of dangerous opponents bidding to halt her 12-match winning streak at the Caja Magica.
The world No. 1 and two-time defending champion in the Spanish capital opens her campaign on Sunday against Russian lefty Ekaterina Makarova.
Halep, who fell tamely to CoCo Vandeweghe in the Stuttgart quarter-finals last week, has been dealing with an upper leg injury but says she’s ready to take on the world’s best in Madrid.
“I’m okay, I recovered, I had a lot of treatment coming here, so I feel good,” the Romanian top seed told reporters on Friday.
“I was practicing hard these days. I’ve been here since Tuesday so I had time to adjust myself here, to adapt, I’m all good.”
Halep will face one of two Belgians in the second round, either Alison van Uytvanck or Elise Mertens, before a possible third round against American No. 13 seed Madison Keys.
Sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, ex-world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and US Open champion Sloane Stephens, who is seeded No. 9 in Madrid, are all potential quarter-final opponents for Halep.
“Expectations are always there, but I don’t feel the pressure,” assured Halep.
“I feel I’m ready, I feel that it’s going to be tough, for sure every match I will play. But if I enjoy and if I’m happy on court then it’s going to be fine.”
Home favourite and No. 3 seed Garbine Muguruza and eighth-seeded Venus Williams could collide in the quarters and share the same half of the draw with Halep.
Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam champion, has struggled in Madrid in the past and has never made it beyond the second round here. She has only ever won three main draw matches at the Caja Magica but is looking to finally do well on home soil.
The 24-year-old retired from her opening match in Stuttgart last week, citing a lower back problem.
“It was a shame because I didn’t want to start the clay season with a retirement but I just felt pain in my lower back and I took a few days with the doctor to recover and I’m happy that I’m feeling much better here in Madrid,” said Muguruza on Friday.
“Historically it’s a tournament where I’ve never played very well but I’m always very excited to be back because it means a lot to me to play in front of the crowd. I’m just excited to go out there and perform better than previous years.”
Muguruza takes on China’s Peng Shuai in the first round and could play 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina in the third round.
Petra Kvitova or Venus Williams are possible quarter-final rivals for Muguruza if she makes it that far.
“I think first of all it’s a Premier Mandatory, there are no byes, right away you’re playing the best in the world. There’s a little bit of altitude, there’s nothing really specifically, it’s just something that isn’t happening and I still don’t know why,” said Muguruza of why she finds this tournament so tricky.
The other half of the draw features Australian Open champion and No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, who was handed a daunting opener against Australia’s Daria Gavrilova.
The Dane is drawn to possibly square off with French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the quarter-finals and could get seventh-seeded Caroline Garcia or fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina in the semis.
Ostapenko kicks off her campaign on Saturday against Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, while Svitolina is also in action on opening day against Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.
Projected quarter-finals (by seed):
Simona Halep (ROU x1) v Karolina Pliskova(CZE x6)
Garbine Muguruza (ESP x3) v Venus Williams (USA x8)
Caroline Garcia (FRA x7) v Elina Svitolina (UKR x4)
Jelena Ostapenko (LAT x5) v Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x2)
Serena Williams (USA)
Angelique Kerber (GER)
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
Laura Siegemund (GER)
Lucie Safarova (CZE)
Catherine Bellis (USA)
Timea Bacsinszky (SUI)
Marketa Vondrousova (CZE)
Rafael Nadal’s bulldozing form saw the Spaniard skip past world No. 10 David Goffin on Saturday to reach an 11th Barcelona final and post a 400th career match win on clay.
The Mallorcan is just the fourth man in the Open Era to enter the 400 club on the surface and is the first to win at least 400 matches on both clay and hard courts.
After going down an early break to Goffin in Saturday’s semi-final, Nadal sped to a 6-4, 6-0 success over the Belgian to take his streak to 44 consecutive sets won on clay. He faces 19-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.
The 31-year-old Nadal has also claimed his last 18 matches on the red dirt, with his last defeat coming to Dominic Thiem in the Rome quarter-finals last May.
Here’s an inside look at how Nadal reached 400 clay wins…
Of the 400 victories on the surface, 85 of them came against top-10 opponents. Nadal is 4-0 against top-10 players on clay in 2018, and 85-16 lifetime. Against top-five rivals, he is 48-12 on clay.
Nadal’s 400 triumphs include a record 54 titles won on the terre battue. He has claimed an unprecedented 10 Roland Garros crowns, 11 Monte Carlo trophies and 10 Barcelona titles.
He is into his 63rd career final on clay and is 54-8 win-loss in those finals.
58 of Nadal’s 400 clay wins included at least one bagel set claimed by the Spaniard.
Of Nadal’s 400 clay wins, 328 of them were secured in straight sets. The 31-year-old hasn’t dropped a set on clay since his defeat to Thiem in Rome 2017.
Nadal’s winning percentage on clay is a stunning 91.9 per cent (400-35 win-loss). In 2018, he is 11-0 on the surface and is now 57-3 lifetime in Barcelona.
Nadal has amassed multiple different streaks on clay over the years. Between 2005 and 2007, he won 81 clay matches in a row, which remains the longest winning streak on a single surface in the Open Era in men’s singles.
He also has the longest streak for most consecutive sets won on clay in the Open Era. Nadal has registered five streaks of 30 or more sets won in a row on the red dirt. Here are the leaders in that category:
44 Rafael Nadal 2017-18
35 Guillermo Coria 2003-04
34 Ilie Nastase 1973
32 Rafael Nadal 2010-11
31 Rafael Nadal 2007-08
30 Rafael Nadal 2012
30 Rafael Nadal 2006-07
* Stats via ATP match notes and Tennis Abstract