ATP Mutua Madrid Open – Can Rafael Nadal win title No. 6?

Rafael Nadal swing

Rafael Nadal from Spain hits a backhand return to Gael Monfils from France during a Madrid Open tennis tournament match in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Nadal won 6-3, 6-1. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

  • Rafael Nadal is the only member of the Big 3 to play; Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are sitting out
  • Nadal has won three of the last seven Madrid Open editions, the last one in 2017
  • The only other former champion is Alexander Zverev. We break down the odds and pick a winner

Rafael Nadal has more trips to the Madrid Open in his career (17) than the next 10 odds favorites on the list – combined (12). And he’s won it five times.

But does that give him an express pass to the trophy ceremony Sunday?

Not so fast.

ATP Madrid Open Odds

Seed Player Odds at DraftKings
[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) -125
[4] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) +600
[3] Dominic Thiem (AUT) +700
[6] Andrey Rublev (RUS) +1400
Aslan Karatsev (RUS) +2000
[2] Daniil Medvedev (RUS) +2000
[14] Jannik Sinner (ITA) +2000
[5] Alexander Zverev (GER) +2000
Casper Ruud (NOR) +3300
[15] Félix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) +5000
[8] Matteo Berrettini (ITA) +5000
[10] Pablo Carreño Busta (ESP) +5000
[7] Diego Schwartzman (ARG) +5000
[11] Denis Shapovalov (CAN) +6600
[9] Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) +8000
[16] Cristian Garin (CHI) +15000
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (ESP) +25000

Odds as of May 1

Nadal a Shaky Favorite in Madrid

When you look at the title totals the king of clay has amassed in his career in Monte Carlo, Rome, Barcelona and the French Open, Nadal’s five Madrid crowns seem rather meager in comparison.

He hasn’t missed the tournament since his debut in 2003.

But he hasn’t won it since 2017.

Madrid Altitude a Game Changer

The conditions in Madrid are very different from the French Open and those other clay-court tournaments because of 2,200 feet of altitude.

Nadal doesn’t find it particularly good preparation for the ultimate goal every spring, which is to win in Paris.

He’s coming in with a title in Barcelona, but without having played at the level he expects of himself this spring.

Nadal’s road to the title is as challenging as it gets. All the young guns are in his half.

No Djokovic, a Rusty Thiem

It wasn’t a surprise when it became official that three-time champion Novak Djokovic would skip Madrid.

Djokovic won the last time it took place, in 2019. But he didn’t play well in Monte Carlo or Belgrade this spring.

And with his favorite, Rome, coming up – as well as a near-mandatory appearance at a second Belgrade tournament the week before the French Open, he made choices.

Two-time finalist Dominic Thiem has not played since losing his opening match in Dubai to Lloyd Harris, more than six weeks ago.

There’s an ongoing foot problem. And like many,  the Austrian was weary of the restrictive bubble life and playing before empty stands.

So he comes into Madrid a big question mark.

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Many Madrid Newbies in the Draw

Experience helps in Madrid, given the unique conditions.

But so many players in the draw – quality top-30 players, players with at least an outside shot at the title – have never played it.

Making their main-draw debuts in 2021 will be: No. 7 Andrey Rublev, No.  10 Matteo Berrettini, No. 18 Jannik Sinner, No. 22 Cristian Garin, No. 24 Casper Ruud and No. 27 Aslan Karatsev.

ATP Madrid Open Contenders – Best Previous Results

Player Trips to Madrid Best Result
Rafael Nadal 17 W (2005, ’10, ’13, ’14 & ’17)
Stefanos Tsitsipas 2 F 2019
Dominic Thiem 5 F 2017 & 2018
Andrey Rublev Debut N/A
Aslan Karatsev Debut N/A
Daniil Medvedev 2 1R 2018 & 2019
Jannik Sinner Debut N/A
Alexander Zverev 3 W 2018

What About Aslan?

Karatsev is coming off a titanic victory over Djokovic at the Serb’s home tournament in Belgrade.

After that three-hour, 26-minute marathon the previous night, he didn’t have much left for the final the next day against Matteo Berrettini.

But you can’t rule him out of a deep run in Madrid in quicker conditions, even with Tsitsipas in his quarter.

Previous ATP Madrid Open Winners and Finalists

Year Champion Finalist
2020 Not Held N/A
2019 [1] Novak Djokovic [8] Stefanos Tsitsipas
2018 [2] Alexander Zverev [5] Dominic Thiem
2017 [4] Rafael Nadal [8] Dominic Thiem
2016 [1] Novak Djokovic [2] Andy Murray
2015 [2] Andy Murray [3] Rafael Nadal
2014 [1] Rafael Nadal [10] Kei Nishikori
2013 [5] Rafael Nadal [15] Stan Wawrinka

First-round Matches to Watch

Karen Khachanov (-121) vs Kei Nishikori (-103)

Their 2-2 head-to-head is fairly irrelevant as the last match was over two years ago. And they’ve never met on clay.

But Nishikori is playing better than Khachanov is at the moment, and is excellent on the dirt.

Martin Fucsovics (-200) vs Alexander Bublik (+160)

Bublik won their one meeting on clay and has been playing through. Meanwhile, Fucsovics has been tending to a knee after a draining run through the winter hard-courts in Europe and the Middle East.

Unless he self-destructs (always a possibility), Bublik looks like a good bet in this one.

Best Bet: Stefanos Tsitsipas (+600)
Longer shot:  Aslan Karatsev (+2000

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Stephanie Myles

Sports Writer