Five-time champion Nadal admits Madrid poses difficult challenges

Rafael Nadal is a five-time champion of the Madrid Masters. However, since the tournament moved from indoor hard courts to clay it has been his least successful tournament during this time of year. Will success come for him this week in front of the Spanish crowd?

Rafael Nadal - Barcelona - 2021

It is no surprise that Rafael Nadal’s record at Mutua Madrid Open is not quite as impressive as what he has achieved in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, and at the French Open.

For one, this Masters 100 tournament was held on indoor hard courts the first six times Nadal played it (he captured the title once during that period, in 2005). Another time it took place on slippery blue clay that basically no one liked–Nadal included. Even now that Madrid is played on his preferred surface of traditional clay, conditions are not as favorable for the Spaniard as they are at the other clay-court events. High altitude generally speeds up the pace of play, making it harder for Nadal to control his heavy-topspin groundstrokes. Bigger, flatter hitters not only have an easier time of keeping their shots in the court but also the fact that those shots are traveling faster in Madrid gives those kinds of opponents a better chance to end points quickly with first-strike tennis — thus avoiding long, grueling rallies that they never want to engage in with Nadal.

“Yeah, it’s the most difficult event for me,” the world No 2 admitted during his pre-tournament press conference earlier this week. “Everybody knows. But at the same time it is one of the most emotional events for me playing at home. We have a chance to play with the crowd again; that means a lot to me. (I’m) super happy to be back here.

“In terms of tennis, it’s true the situation is a little bit tougher. Less control; more difficult to be under control in the points. But I’ve had some success here, yeah. I’ve won a couple of times; I’ve had some good tournaments. I’m excited to be back and hopefully ready to play well.”

Rafael Nadal - Madrid

It’s not like Nadal is bad in Madrid. He has won it four times since it moved to red clay in 2010 (2010, 2013, 2014, 2017). The 34-year-old also reached the final in 2011 (lost to Novak Djokovic) and 2015 (lost to Andy Murray).

Nadal appears well-positioned Nadal for another impressive result after picking up confidence by winning the Barcelona Open a week ago. He survived a three-set thriller in the final against Stefanos Tsitsipas to lift the Barcelona trophy for the 12th time. Now, having the benefit of a week off, Nadal should be well-rested to make a charge for a sixth Madrid crown.

“It’s another opportunity for me to play another big event on clay at home with crowds,” the top seed commented. “I’m excited. Barcelona [was] an important week for me, of course…. Without playing my best at the beginning I was able to stay positive (and) accept the challenge. I was able to achieve another important title in my career, so that’s important for my confidence. I really believe that winning these kinds of tournaments when you are not playing that well can make a big difference for the next ones.”

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