Raducanu debut, Djokovic seeks form, Nadal and Murray return – things to watch in Madrid

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The Madrid Open kicked off on Thursday with the start of the WTA main draw, while the ATP tournament is set to get underway on Sunday. The mixed 1000-point tournament is already an intriguing one with the return of some faces who haven’t been seen on the tour in a while and the absence of some others. Express Sport takes a look at six things to watch at the Madrid Open.

Nadal back but maybe not better

Rafael Nadal is back in action for the first time since Indian Wells after a six-week injury layoff when he fractured his rib in the semi-final. The world No 4 announced earlier this week that he would be making his comeback in Madrid but admitted he was not yet exactly what he wanted to be, having only returned to a tennis court for the first time in a month last Monday.

“Despite arriving just before preparation and being difficult, I really want to play and play at home since the opportunities are few,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “To try to do it in the best possible way. See you in Madrid.” The Spaniard went on a 20 match-winning streak to start his 2022 season, fresh off the back of a six-month injury layoff, in which he won Melbourne, Acapulco and a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

He lost his last match to Taylor Fritz in the Indian Wells final but will be a favourite to go on to extend his Major title lead to 22 at the French Open, where he is already a record 13-time champion. But it all depends on how well Nadal recovers from his stress fracture, and everyone will be keeping an eye on his level in Madrid in the early stages of his comeback with the French Open less than a month away.

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Raducanu makes Madrid debut after axing coach

Emma Raducanu continues her first professional outing on the clay swing by making her debut at the Madrid Open. It comes days after she parted ways with Torben Beltz, her coach of five months, to “transition to a new training model with the LTA supporting in the interim.” The world No 11 will now be joined by the LTA’s Iain Bates in Madrid, where she opens against Tereza Martincova on Friday, who she beat 7-5 7-5 two weeks ago at the Billie Jean King Cup tie.

The 19-year-old’s adaptation to the clay is something to continue to watch, and she will be coming into Madrid full of confidence off the back of her best result of the season, a quarter-final showing in her first WTA tournament in Stuttgart last month. Fans and pundits alike will also be keeping a close eye on the aftermath of Raducanu’s split with Beltz, and how well she will perform after the shock decision.

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Djokovic still looking for form ahead of French Open title defence

Novak Djokovic will be hoping to continue gaining momentum and improving his level after a run to the final in Belgrade. The world No 1 has played just three tournaments so far this season and suffered his first back-to-back losses since last July when he crashed out of the Dubai quarter-finals before losing his opening match in Monte Carlo.

It was a much better showing from the Serb at his home tournament but he was forced to come from a set down in all of his matches en route to the final, then looked flat in the final set as Andrey Rublev defeated him 6-2 6-7(4) 6-0 in the final. “Things are progressing slowly but surely, Paris is the big goal and hopefully by Paris I’ll be ready,” Djokovic said after the final, and everyone will be waiting to see how the world No 1 performs after a stop-start season so far, with his French Open title defence also looming.

A wide open women’s draw with Swiatek injured and Barty retired

World No 1 Iga Swiatek withdrew from the Madrid Open with a right shoulder injury, having won her last four tournaments in a row – Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Stuttgart. When the dominant previous world No 1 Ash Barty retired shortly after winning the Australian Open, the 20-year-old quickly took her place as a force to be reckoned with on the tour but the title now feels up for grabs in Swiatek’s absence.

When Barty announced her retirement ahead of the Miami Open, many noticed that some of the top seeds and favourites for the title crashed out in the early rounds, speculating whether they were cracking under the pressure of having a better chance to lift the title and it will be interesting to see how the women’s draw unfolds in the absence of Swiatek.

Murray competing after making clay U-turn

Andy Murray will also be one of the faces returning to the court in Madrid for the first time since the ‘Sunshine Double’ of Indian Wells and Miami. The current world No 81 previously announced he would not be playing the clay season after it caused him injury “issues” in the past with his focus on having a successful grass-court season, but he took a wildcard to get some competitive matches under his belt ahead of the grass. While he won’t be playing the French Open, it will be Murray’s first time competing on clay since 2017 and the first chance to see what he’s been working on with Lendl back in his corner.

Spaniards return successful a year after appearing as wildcards

Carlos Alcaraz and Paula Badosa return to the Madrid Masters as two of the favourites for the ATP and WTA titles a year after needing wildcards to gain entry to the event. Badosa will now be the highest-ranked player in the women’s draw, coming in fresh off the back of reaching a career-high of world No 2.

Both players have already picked up 1000-point titles in their year since appearing as wildcards, with Badosa winning the postponed 2021 Indian Wells and Alcaraz recently becoming the youngest Miami Open champion in history. The 18-year-old is also fresh off the back of winning the Barcelona Open and cracking the top 10 for the first time. Alcaraz made his Masters debut at the tournament as a wildcard last year, getting his first match-win at that level in the first round before losing to Nadal on his 18th birthday. Ranked world No 62 at the time, Badosa managed to go on a stunning run to the semi-finals where she lost to world No 1 Barty.

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