Held just three weeks before the French Open, the Madrid Masters is a key battleground in the run-up to the second Grand Slam of the year and, at the very heart of the clay-court season, the battles fought between the top players at the iconic Caja Magica ('Magic Box') will be fierce.
Since the Madrid Open switched from hard courts to clay courts in 2009, the tournament has been won by just four players. There are no surprises in their identities, with the traditional Big 4 sharing the eight editions between them.
Again unsurprisingly, Rafael Nadal, as the King of Clay, has the most title with three (he also won an epic five-setter against Ivan Ljubicic in the 2005 final but that was when the tournament was staged on hard courts), Roger Federer has two titles, including the 2012 edition when the tournament experimented with blue clay (that idea was wiped off after just one year following a multitude of complaints from the players about the quality of the blue courts), Novak Djokovic also has two Madrid titles, while Andy Murray has one on the Madrid clay. The Scot won the 2008 edition- the last Madrid Open to be held on hard courts.
Given its proximity to the French Open, the Madrid Open has become one of the most important tournaments on the ATP World Tour, where the players continue to fine-tune their preparations ahead of the big one in Paris. The tournament often gives an early indication of the direction the French Open might be headed. Indeed, Djokovic and Murray contested the 2016 final, and both men went on to reach the French Open final. And like in Madrid, where Djokovic won in three sets, the Serbian also triumphed in Paris, recovering from the loss of the opening set to outclass his British opponent.
With Nadal operating below full capacity, Murray and Djokovic dominated the 2016 clay court season, with the pair playing the finals in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.
Nadal will be on a mission in to reclaim his lost home in 2017, and one of the targeted tournaments would surely be the one staged in his country. To be fair to Nadal, he has been in around the business end in the last few seasons. The Spaniard won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, lost in the final in 2015, and lost in the semis in 2016. Both defeats have been inflicted by Murray.
Up until 2015, the Scot had no titles on the surface, but so drastic have his improvements being that he now boasts three clay-court titles, and two victories over Nadal on Rafa’s favourite dirt.
Roger Federer has not quite figured in Madrid since his 2012 success on the blue clay, and it could be one of the tournaments to get Roger’s axe as the great man looks to manage his schedule.
Outside the usual suspects, former finalists, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, and Austria’s Dominic Thiem look the likeliest to break the dominance of Murray-Djokovic-Nadal triumvirate if that indeed is to happen in the Spanish capital in 2017.
You can watch the Mutua Madrid Masters live from the Caja Majica from 5-14 May, 2017.