Madrid – Three weeks before Roland-Garros (May 22 – June 5) and six weeks after a stress fracture in a rib, Rafael Nadal finally sets foot on clay, his favorite surface, at the Masters 1000 in Madrid. Novak Djokovic, he is still looking for rhythm after his first quarter almost without competition.
The draw, which was conducted on Friday, placed them both on the same half of the table. It’s also that of the track’s rising star, Carlos Alcaraz, a fresh inhabitant of the top 10, just 18 years old, following his win in Barcelona a week ago.
Nadal, whose last game dates from March 20 – a lost final at the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells against American Taylor Fritz the day after his rib injury – will take his first steps on Wednesday, the day after Djokovic and Alcaraz, announced Tuesday. . †
How is the Spaniard handling the tournament, who the day before reiterated that he arrived ‘very fair’ on Spanish television from the Santiago-Bernabeu stadium where he stepped down and watched the game for the title of Real Madrid, his favorite club?
“The injury meant I could do practically nothing, I couldn’t get shots, it made everyone completely useless,” explains “Rafa”, who took over the racket a dozen days ago, but only a day or two.
– “Very fallen” –
“I still have ups and downs, it’s going to be a difficult week, that’s the reality”, the current world N.4 goes out, hoping for “moments of good play”.
“If I could only win one game, that would be fantastic,” he added, “setting the target on the coming weeks.”
“It was an important stoppage, which fell very badly in the season,” says the Mallorcan, devoid of Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, but “compared to Paris, I think I’m on time”.
Nadal, the only Grand Slam trophy record holder since his 21st crown in Australia at the start of the season, will face off-form Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic or Kazakhstan Alexander Bublik.
After the incredible soap opera of his expulsion from Australia in January and his first quarter without a tournament or almost (three matches in Dubai in February), for lack of vaccination against Covid-19, Djokovic is trying to resume the demanding rhythm of the circuit.
In mid-April Monte-Carlo, the world’s number 1 sank from the start against Alejandro Davidovich (6-3, 6-7, 6-1).
In Belgrade the following week he reached the final, at the cost of three matches in straight sets, but again ran out of steam. This allowed the world number 8 Andrey Rublev to give him a 6-0 in the third set of the final.
– Djokovic-Monfils to start? †
A stroke of fatigue “similar to Monte-Carlo’s” which “Djoko” explained by the effects of a “disease that affected his metabolism for several weeks”, without specifying the diagnosis.
“I have to be patient,” he knows. Recognizing that “lack of competition affects (his) ability to play at a certain level,” he says that in recent days he has “focused on the physical and stamina” during training and appreciates “visibility on (his) programming” for at least three months, until Wimbledon.
From the outset on Madrid soil, a duel with Gaël Monfils threatens for the Serb (17-0 for Djokovic), if the Frenchman sacks Spanish guest Carlos Gimeno in the first round. Next one ? On paper, Denis Shapovalov (16th), or the winner of the first round shock between two ghosts, Andy Murray and Dominic Thiem.
In addition to Monfils (21st), three more Frenchmen are at the start: Benoît Paire, who came out of qualifying, Ugo Humbert, draft, and Lucas Pouille, guest.
At the women’s draw, started on Thursday and deprived of the world N.1, Iga Swiatek and the N.3 Barbora Krejcikova, winners of the last two editions of Roland-Garros, the world N.2 and N.4 have already disappeared, Paula Badosa and Aryna Sabalenka, also defending champions. As well as Naomi Osaka, knocked out in the second round, sore Achilles tendon.
To follow in particular the course of the ex-world number 1 Simona Halep, for her first tournament led by Patrick Mouratoglou, and already a Badosa faller.