Four-time Caja Mágica champion Rafael Nadal will lead next week's Madrid Open against local fans, becoming the top seed following the retirement of Novak Djokovic. World no. 1 and the defending Madrid Open champion decided to skip the third Masters 1000 event of the season, taking more time off the pitch after the Serbia Open and hoping to play 100% in Rome and Paris.
Novak has played just three tournaments in the first four months of 2021, securing the ninth Australian Open title in February despite an abdominal injury. Eager to recover and compete injury-free again, Djokovic skipped the Miami Open and returned to action in Monte Carlo three weeks ago, beating Jannik Sinner in the second round before suffering a tough loss to Daniel Evans in straight sets.
Traveling back to Serbia, Novak participated in the Serbian Open in his hometown of Belgrade and got off to a strong start against youngsters Soonwoo Kwon and Miomir Kecmanovic. Facing Aslan Karatsev for the second time this season, Novak was unable to repeat the Australian Open result, losing in three sets after a titanic battle that lasted three and a half hours!
The Serbian was not feeling well on the pitch, and he decided to skip Madrid and recharge ahead of Roma and Roland Garros. Novak also plans to enter the Belgrade 2 event in a week before Paris, although this has yet to be decided.
Novak is a three-time Madrid Open champion, lifting the trophies in 2011, 2016 and 2019, when he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final in two sets. On the other hand, Nadal will try to celebrate in front of the home crowd for the first time in four years, gathering momentum after winning the 12th Barcelona Open crown on Sunday.
Rafa saved a match point against Stefanos Tsitsipas and won 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 at three hours and 38 minutes, looking for another good run in the Caja Mágica. When asked to analyze the championship match at the recently-concluded Barcelona Open, where Rafael Nadal triumphed for an unprecedented 12th time, Toni was critical of both his nephew and Tsitsipas.
Uncle Toni on Rafael Nadal
"The Barcelona final was not a great match, Rafa and Stefanos did not play well even if it was very emotional," Rafael Nadal's former coach & uncle Toni said. But in the same breath, he claimed that the Barcelona victory ought to boost the 20-time Major winner's confidence going forward. "Rafa made unforced errors that he doesn't usually make. But this win will give him confidence," Toni said.