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What We Learned From Madrid

The Mutua Madrid Open which serves as the warmup to Roland Garros concluded this past weekend. When the red dust settled, it was Rafael Nadal left taking a bite out of the trophy. While this tournament does not play any real bearing on the French Open, it can be used as an interesting preview of what we can expect to see. It also gave us some early headlines leading into the open.

Top Seeds Pressed Early

The Madrid tournament was not great for top seeds. Many of the sports more notable players struggled in the early rounds, some were even bounced in their first match. Gael Monfils (15), Marin Cilic (7), Jack Sock (14), Lucas Pouille (13), and Stan Wawrinka (3) all lost the first match they played. Kei Nishikori (6), Novak Djokovic (2), and Rafael Nadal (5) all had to battle through three set matches to advance through round one. If this is any indication of things to come, Roland Garros is going to be wild.

Americans Still Bad On Clay

It has been four years since Denis Kudla famously tweeted “Americans on clay. We are not that bad.” Sadly, it turns out Americans are still pretty bad on clay. This unfortunate reality was on full display in Madrid as only two out of four Americans in the draw won their first round match and none made it out of the second round.

Even though some of the more competitive Americans such as John Isner, Sam Querry, and Steve Johnson were not in the tournament, it is still no excuse for the poor showing. To make matters worse, top American Jack Sock was knocked out by Nicholas Mahut of France in the first round. This is not a good way to go into the French for a player expecting to be a contender for major titles this season.

The two Americans that did win their first round matches were lucky loser Jared Donaldson who defeated Adrian Mannarino, and Ryan Harrison who defeated former top 25 player Bernard Tomic of Australia.

Young Players Ready To Emerge

While Madrid was rough for many of the established players, it served as a break out for some of the younger players on tour. Alexander Zverev won three matches including victories over Marin Cilic and a straight set win against Thomas Berdych. Much like Zverev, Croation sensation Borna Coric also had some big wins. Most notably, his straight set dismantling of world number one Andy Murray. Coric got knocked out by eventual runner up Dominic Thiem in the semi-final round. Speaking of Thiem, he had the best tournament of all the younger players culminating in a finals appearance. At just 23 years old, Thiem has already established himself as a top player so it was no surprise to see him advance through the draw. Nonetheless, the result is still a positive step to making a deep run at a major.

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Andy Murray – photo by Ian Dick

Djokovic And Murray Still Struggling

Just one year ago, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic met in the final of the Madrid tournament. This year, neither of them made it to the final, and each of their losses were in straight sets. Murray and Djokovic will enter the French Open as the number one and two seeded players respectively. However, they look more vulnerable to an early exit than they ever have in the last five years.

Rafa Is Back

The biggest story of the tournament was obviously Rafael Nadal emerging victorious to win his third straight title. Ever since the Australian Open in which he made the finals, Nadal has been brilliant. Now that clay court season is officially in full swing, he has once again become the champion who won nine French Opens. In Madrid, Nadal cruised past Djokovic in the semi-finals and then dispatched Thiem in the final with relative ease. In fact, the only set Nadal dropped was in his first match vs. Fabio Fognini.

Based on the results of the Mutua Madrid Open, Roland Garros should be extremely entertaining. Between Murray and Djokovic struggling and a lot of young players on the rise, look for potential upsets and tons of great matches.