Defending Australian Open singles champions Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka suffered shocking early-round exits at the Madrid Open this week, raising serious questions about their chances at the upcoming French Open in Roland Garros later this May.
Djokovic bowed out in the second round of the men's draw, losing to Grigor Dimitrov in three sets after earning a bye in the first round.
Although the loss is only Djokovic's third this season, it's the most shocking for the current world No. 1 by far as Dimitrov ranks just 28th in the world. But the six-time Grand Slam champion will have a shot to bounce back in Rome next week, and shouldn't be too concerned about his recent loss.
After all, Djokovic lost in the quarters at Madrid a year ago and then lost in the Rome final to Nadal before making a run to the French Open final in June. All indications are that Djokovic will bounce back in a big way at Rome next week and carry loads of momentum into Roland Garros.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Azarenka.
While Djokovic has already won an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event on clay this season, beating Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo, Azarenka was returning from a two-month layoff and in need of a deep run for her confidence and her game on the clay in lead-up to the year's second Grand Slam.
Prior to this week's tournament, the women's world No. 3 hadn't played since Indian Wells back in mid-March, bowing out to Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals.
On top of Azarenka's early exit, her play in her second-round loss to Ekaterina Makarova was discouraging. She lost her composure, smashed a racquet, double-faulted five times and was erratic with her serve.
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If she can't find some answers in Rome next week then she'll be on upset alert heading into the French Open. Confidence and rhythm are vital when it comes to winning major tournaments, and unlike Djokovic, Azarenka has yet to prove her game can transition from hard courts to clay.
Vika plays fast and prefers the faster-playing hard court. Just take a look at how successful she's been at the Australian Open over the past two years.
She lost in the fourth round of the French Open a year ago and has never been further than the quarterfinals in Paris. That said, and based on what we saw in Madrid this week, tennis fans can anticipate another early exit from Azarenka this summer at Roland Garros.
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