Roger Federer Faces Easier Madrid Open Path with Exit of Novak Djokovic

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IIMay 8, 2013

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 07:  Roger Federer of Switzerland in action against Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic during day four of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 7, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

In one of the more shocking early round setbacks of his career, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic fell to Grigor Dimitrov in the second round of the Madrid Open, meaning Roger Federer now has one less major obstacle to expect should he reach the finals.

As ATP World Tour described on Twitter, Djokovic split the first two sets of the match, but fell 6-3 in a pairing that ordinarily wouldn’t be much trouble for the No. 1 player in the world:

Danger still litters the tournament draw, but Federer’s most challenging potential finals' foe is now out of the picture. Should he elude a possible matchup with Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, FedEx won’t have to worry about facing the Serbian in defense of his 2012 title.

That’s not to say besting Nadal will be an easy task, however. The “King of Clay” is tuning up for the French Open in pursuit of a potential spike to No. 4 in the world rankings, and he’ll be prepared to make a run of his own with Andy Murray now the toughest competition standing in the way in the top half of the draw.

But a potential matchup with Rafa aside, the biggest picture has come a little more in focus for the 31-year-old. He possesses a more favorable record against Djokovic (16-13) than he does Murray, but there’s no denying the decrease in pressure he now faces in making his return in defense of a title.

The Madrid Open may not have the same importance of the French Open, but Federer won’t be taking the tournament lightly. After two months away from the sport (due in small part to a back injury suffered at Indian Wells in March), the world No. 2 will be looking to re-establish his dominance and put in his best effort in preparation for the tournament.

Federer bested Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-2 Tuesday in the second round of the Madrid Open, and he looked crisp in his return to the court. There seems to be no reason to worry about the Swiss’ health or preparation with a date at Roland Garros on the horizon. All signs point to a strong showing this week at the Madrid Open.

One could argue that Djokovic’s early exit puts less of a burden on Murray as he now has an easier path to the finals as well, but that won’t necessarily work in his favor. If the world No. 3 waltzes his way into the finals without much resistance, he may be in for a bit of a surprise with a tuned-up Nadal or Federer waiting.