Four weeks before Roland-Garros, where he will seek a dizzying fourteenth coronation, the Spaniard, freshly victorious in a tough fight in Barcelona, wants to continue his rise in the Masters 1000 in Madrid, which begins on Sunday.
Will Rafael Nadal feel lonely in Madrid this week? Reinstalled in second place in the world since Monday, he is the only member of the Big Three ”that the Caja Magica welcomes this year: neither Novak Djokovic nor Roger Federer have made the trip. The first, holding the Madrid trophy (2019), gave up a few days after his intense face-to-face lost against the Russian revelation Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals in Belgrade. The second, who is attempting a return to the highest level at the dawn of his 40 years after a double operation on his right knee, preferred to opt for the Geneva tournament in two weeks as preparation for Roland-Garros (May 30- June 13).
“I still have a long way to go to try to reach the level I need to be able to compete for what I am aiming for”
For Nadal, who will celebrate his 35th birthday in a month, the opening of the season on clay – which he has largely transformed into a private preserve for the past fifteen years – has not been as smooth as could be. imagine it. In Monte-Carlo in mid-April, the blows of Russian puncher Andrey Rublev (7th), and his failing service, got the better of his foolproof combativeness from the quarter-finals. The following week in Barcelona, he had two tricky first rounds, each time losing a set (against Ilya Ivashka and Kei Nishikori). Then he was more convincing in his next two matches. Until emerging victorious in the final of an amazing fight (6-4, 6-7, 7-5) against Stefanos Tsitsipas (5th), the most regular player of the first part of the season, freshly crowned in Monte-Carlo .
Their extended duel – 3h38 min – and its share of twists and turns (two match points in the second set for Nadal, one in the third for Tsitsipas) did not however cloud the ideas of the Mallorcan. “This week can help me approach the rest with a positive frame of mind. I feel that I still have room for improvement in tennis and I am convinced that this victory will help me to move forward, ”said the Spaniard. “I still have a long way to go in trying to reach the level I need to be able to compete for what I’m aiming for. I’m going to work for that, to give myself the best chances. ” What is he aiming for? Roland-Garros of course, where he will have a golden opportunity to seize the record for Grand Slam crowns, which he shares with Federer (20). Exempted from the first round, Nadal will start either against Adrian Mannarino (33rd), or against the young Spanish hope Carlos Alcaraz, 120th at 17 years old. Any reunion with Tsitsipas will only take place in the final.
We will follow two returns on Madrid clay: those of Dominic Thiem (4th) and Daniil Medvedev (3rd). Curious collapse at the Australian Open for a fighter of his caliber (in 8th against Dimitrov), early eliminations in Doha and Dubai in March: the Austrian had taken a step back since, he who had had the impression, according to his own words, to “sink into a hole” in the months following his first Grand Slam coronation at the US Open 2020. “I needed a break, recognizes Thiem. Now it’s time to come back, I hope I can play well. I think I am at a good level. My goal is to win a lot of matches against the best players here at Roland Garros. ” As for Medvedev, not very fond of clay in absolute terms, it was a positive test for Covid-19 which stopped him dead before his entry into the running in Monte-Carlo.