Can Wawrinka make it four titles this year?
The 2014 ATP Madrid Masters kicks off from Monday and 14 of the top 16 players in the world will be in action, fighting for the prized points and more than four and half million euros in money.
What makes it interesting is that no one player has had a total hold over this tournament in the previous years, with Rafael Nadal having won it last year and in 2010 and Roger Federer having triumphed in 2009 and 2012.
World number two, Novak Djokovic, was the title-winner in 2011, while the competition before 2009 was played on indoor-hard courts in Madrid.
Where things also get exciting this year is that not only has Nadal not been at his fluent best on clay, there are a couple of other sub-plots to it.
Novak Djokovic has had fitness issues and despite been passed fit, he will need to get past a rather brutal draw to win his second title here. Besides, there’s a world number one ranking at stake for the Serb, who can reclaim it if he wins the title and Nadal does not make it to the last-eight stage.
And then there’s the in-form Federer, whose transformation since bringing in Stefan Edberg as a new coach, has been an excellent one. He had dropped out of the top four for the first time in 10 years last season but is now back to the number four spot following a good run this year.
Since bringing Edberg on board, Federer has made it to the semi-finals at the Australian Open, won the title in Dubai, was the runner-up at the Indian Wells Masters and then again at the Monte-Carlo Masters.
As I mentioned earlier, the draw, is a tough one for the world number two, Djokovic. Following a first round bye, he could take on Croatia’s Marin Cilic in his second round match. While Djokovic has never lost to the world number 27, Cilic in eight previous meetings, the two have never played on clay before this.
His potential third round opponents could be the 13th seeded Fabio Fognini and Ernests Gulbis, and fifth seeded David Ferrer could be waiting for him at the quarter-final stage.
Djokovic is in the same half of the draw as Stanislas Wawrinka, the Australian Open champion, and the third seed who had beaten him in the first Grand Slam as well. Can Djokovic, who is 4/1 (888Sport) to win the title, navigate through this draw and his fitness concerns to win his second title in Madrid? Sounds difficult to me.
While Nadal will start an obvious favourite (8/5 at Paddy Power), given his record on clay, it must be said he’s looked a tad vulnerable.
Whether it was his defeat at the Australian that he’s failed to recover from or if he’s carrying a niggle that he hasn’t revealed isn’t known but for him to lose at the quarter-final stage at both, Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, has come as a shock. Those odds offered are too short for me to look at Nadal given his current form.
Instead, Paddy Power’s 5/1 for Stanislas Wawrinka looks to be one I will be putting my money on. For a player who likes playing on hard court surfaces as evidenced by his title win at the Australian Open, Wawrinka had a better record on clay last season than on hard court surfaces.
Plus he enters the Madrid Masters with a title at the Monte-Carlo Masters under his belt, having beaten Milos Raonic, David Ferrer and Roger Federer in successive matches to clinch the trophy.
Wawrinka is also the only player to win three titles this year and he could meet Raonic again in the quarter-finals.
Among other players, Andy Murray could face Nicolas Almagro in his second round match and is in the same quarter of the draw as Federer. Even if he gets to that stage, Federer should be too good for him but will he be able to mete out the same treatment to Nadal if the two meet as planned in the semi-final? I will let that one hang…