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)
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