>> Sunday, May 6, 2012
Who will win the 2012 Mutua Madrid Open men's singles tournament? In its website, the Madrid tennis tournament bills itself as "the second most important clay court competition in the world". After celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2011, the Mutua Madrid Open is shaking things up in 2012, unveiling a much maligned blue clay surface for the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament. Led by the world's top three players, a very strong field featuring the best players in the ATP tour find themselves in Madrid hoping to peak just in time for the second Grand Slam of the year at the 2012 French Open starting later this month.
The top eight seeds receive a first round bye and the draw this year is probably a balanced one with the top three players expected to advance from their sections of the draw. Here are my predictions on the four sections of the draw and which players will reach the semi-finals:
Top Half Section 1 - the Serbian Quadrant: Top-seeded world no. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic lead this section of the draw. Other seeded players include no. 7-seed Serb Janko Tipsaveric, no. 9-seed Gilles Simon and no. 13-seed Feliciano Lopez of Spain. Other notable players in this section include Casablanca winner Albert Ramos of Spain, former top 10 players Stanislas Wawrinka and Jurgen Melzer. Djokovic is most likely to battle Simon for a spot in the semi-finals. Seeded favorite: DJOKOVIC. Unseeded darkhorse: RAMOS.
Top Half Section 2 - the FedRer Quadrant: World no. 3-seed and two-time tournament champion Roger Federer and Spain's no. 2 player David Ferrer lead this section of the draw. Both players have won three titles this year so far. Federer is playing in his first clay court event this year while Ferrer has won three clay court titles already and reached the final of the Barcelona tennis tournament two weeks ago. Other seeded players are no. 11-seed Nicolas Almagro and no. 14-seed Richard Gasquet. The winner of the first round match-up between unseeded Milos Raonic of Canada and David Nalbandian of Argentina will be Federer's interesting first opponent. Look for Federer to battle a Spanish player, most likely Ferrer or Almagro, for a spot in the semis. Seeded favorite: FEDERER. Unseeded darkhorse: STEPANEK.
Bottom Half Section 3 - Rafa's Quadrant: It's almost impossible to imagine world no. 2 Rafael Nadal NOT reaching the semifinals. After all, he is the king of clay, and winner of 34(!) clay court tennis tournaments. It's easier to see other players in his section as mere fodder or perhaps practice partners for Rafa's semi-final or final match. And this is not disrespecting the other seeded players as they are a decent batch - no. 6-seed Tomas Berdych, no. 12-seed Gael Monfils and no. 15-seed Fernando Verdasco will most likely challenge for a set but its not likely that they'll sustain their challenge against Nadal's relentless skill on clay. This section also has a couple of unseeded players in former world no. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero and recent Munich champion Philipp Kohlschreiber. Seeded favorite: NADAL. Unseeded darkhorse: FERRERO.
Bottom Half Section 4 - the Open Quadrant: With world no. 4 Andy Murray's absence, this section is relatively open with three seeded players and a couple of unseeded Spaniards having a realistic chance of advancing to the semifinals. This is not to say that Murray will advance had he been present as well. The four highest seeds are no. 4-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, no. 8-seed John Isner, no. 10-seed Juan Martin del Potro and no. 16-seed Alexandr Dolgopolov. Isner actually scored quality Davis Cup best-of-five-sets wins over Federer, Simon, and Tsonga in European clay earlier this year so he can be considered a favorite but Del Potro may actually take advantage of this section if he keeps his current form after winning his fourth clay court title in Estoril just this afternoon. Spanish players Pablo Andujar and Albert Montanes will also contend for a spot in the semi-finals. From the draw, it's most likely that Del Potro will score back-to-back wins over Isner and Tsonga to gain a semifinal showdown with Nadal. Seeded favorite: DEL POTRO. Unseeded darkhorse: ANDUJAR.