Roger Federer faced a tough match to open his 2012 clay-court season, however, the Swiss maestro was more than equal to the task as he defeated Milos Raonic in the second round of the 2012 Madrid Masters on Wednesday.
Raonic was on top of his game and he showed exactly why many pundits think he has a future on the men's tour, however, in the end, the match came down to some pivotal points and it was Federer who had the goods at key moments.
Next up for Federer is arguably an easier opponent as the World No. 3 faces France's Richard Gasquet, the 14th seed at the 2012 Madrid Masters. Gasquet is just 2-9 against Federer lifetime, however, the Frenchman does have a couple wins against the Swiss maestro on the clay-court surface, a statistic that seems to redeem his chances at the 2012 Madrid Masters.
Last year in Rome, Gasquet scored an upset win over Federer in the Round of 16. The Frenchman also defeated Federer at the Monte Carlo Masters although that was back in 2005. Of Federer's nine wins over Gasquet, the large majority have come on the grass courts or the hard courts, with just one clay-court win coming from Hamburg in '05.
Gasquet, a former Top-10 player, does not appear to be playing his absolute best tennis right now, however, his short-term form still looks quite strong. He took out Thomaz Bellucci in the first round, a player with a couple clay-court titles to his credit. In the second round, Gasquet sent off 30th ranked Viktor Troicki, a player who threatened to crack the Top 10 in 2011.
Gasquet also enjoyed a run to the championship match of ATP Estoril last week, where he saw his title hopes squashed by Juan Martin del Potro. If Federer is not playing his best, the Frenchman looks like he could take another clay-court victory away from the former World No. 1.
Straight up: Federer or Gasquet?
However, Gasquet may be tiring soon, as he played four matches last week in Estoril and he will be playing his third match soon in Madrid. That is a lot of matches to have played over a period of just 10 days, especially since Federer has only played one match in that time frame.
The Raonic match showed that the World No. 3 was more than ready for the 2012 clay-court season despite not contesting any of the other clay-court events prior to Madrid. While he's not a lock, he's more than capable of advancing to the quarterfinals where perhaps a match against David Ferrer awaits.
Prediction: Federer to win.