Nadal, Djokovic to reunite in Madrid

 - Reem Abulleil

Legendary duo set to contest same tournament for the first time since RG2021.

Novak Djokovic et Rafael Nadal / Roland-Garros 2021©Philippe Montigny / FFT

The men’s tournament at the Mutua Madrid Open commences on Sunday with eight of the world’s top 10 present in the draw, which was unveiled on Friday evening.

Here’s a look at some of the main talking points ahead of the first round kick-off.

The gang is back together again

Not too long ago, it seemed unfathomable that a Masters 1000 event would be held without Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic taking part.

Yet somehow, the serial champions have not contested the same tournament since Roland-Garros last year and are finally reuniting this week in the Spanish capital, where they have both landed in the same half of the draw.

Djokovic, the top seed, hasn’t played much this season and owns a modest 5-3 win-loss record in 2022. The reigning Roland-Garros champion had a promising week at his home tournament in Belgrade earlier this month, making the final before falling to Andrey Rublev.

The Serb will be chasing a fourth Madrid title this week at the Caja Magica and opens his campaign against familiar foe Gael Monfils or local wildcard Carlos Gimeno Valero.

Djokovic also shares a quarter with clay experts Casper Ruud, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and the returning Dominic Thiem.

Nadal is a five-time Madrid champion and arrives to the tournament on the back of a six-week break where he was nursing a rib injury.

The 21-time major winner owns an impressive 20-1 win-loss tally this season and has already picked up three titles in 2022.

Nadal only started hitting again recently and is short on practice but will be testing out his fitness in Madrid before proceeding with his clay-court swing.

The third-seeded Nadal has been dealt a tricky draw that has him in the same quarter as the red-hot Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal could open against Miomir Kecmanovic or Alexander Bublik before a possible third-round meeting with recent Barcelona finalist Pablo Carreno Busta.

Both Nadal and Djokovic need the match practice and if they want to make it far this tournament, they’ll have to come through some tricky encounters.

Carlos mania hits Madrid

On the eve of the Madrid Open, Spanish teen sensation Alcaraz appeared on the nation’s biggest prime time talk show ‘El Hormiguero’ and the audience peaked at an impressive 5.6 million during the broadcast.

Japanese star Naomi Osaka said she feels that Alcaraz “genuinely made everyone excited about the ATP” again and there’s been a huge turnout for his practices each day at the Caja Magica in the build-up to the tournament.

The 18-year-old Alcaraz, seed No.7 this week, has won three of his last five tournaments coming into Madrid and owns a stunning 23-3 win-loss record in 2022.

He became the first Spaniard to win Miami just a few weeks ago and has picked up two clay titles this season in Rio de Janeiro and more recently in Barcelona.

Alcaraz is brimming with confidence, having achieved a career-high mark of No.9 in the world this week, and will face either Fabio Fognini or Nikoloz Basilashvili in his first match in Madrid.  

Coming in hot

Alcaraz is not the only one to have sent out strong statements on the clay coming into Madrid.

Last year’s Roland-Garros finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas successfully defended his Monte-Carlo Masters title earlier this month, Rublev took down hometown hero Djokovic to win Belgrade, while Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina earned himself some well-deserved attention by making the Monte-Carlo final.

Defending champion Alexander Zverev made the semis in the Principality and is title-less this season. He is seeded No.2 in Madrid and faces Albert Ramos-Vinolas or Marin Cilic in his opener.

Popcorn first rounds

Two former major champions square off in the first round as ex-world No.1 Andy Murray takes on 2020 US Open winner Dominic Thiem.

Both have landed in Djokovic’s top section of the draw and both are looking to climb back up the rankings in the wake of injury-troubled periods.

The winner of this clash could get Canadian No.14 seed Denis Shapovalov in the second round.

An intriguing all-American clash sees No.15 seed Reilly Opelka face an in-form Sebastian Korda.

Italian No.10 seed Jannik Sinner faces former Roland-Garros junior champion Tommy Paul, while Frances Tiafoe drew Chilean Cristian Garin in the first round.