With the 2013 French Open just a couple of weeks away, the best tennis players in the world are getting some last-minute preparations in as they compete in the Mutua Madrid Open.
Everyone in the field obviously wants to come away victorious, but the most important thing is ensuring that they are ready for Roland Garros.
There have been a few surprises after a couple of rounds, but most of the top men's players in the world are still alivet. Playing on clay is a totally different beast than hard courts or grass, so it can be argued that preparing for the French Open is far more important than any of the other three Grand Slams on the schedule.
Here are three stars who will make the most of their French Open tune-up by thriving in the Madrid Open and being among the final players remaining.
Rafael Nadal is perhaps the greatest clay-court player in the history of tennis, so he may not need to hone his skills as much as some of his counterparts. Nadal has won seven of the past eight French Opens and will go for his eighth title in a couple weeks.
He missed seven months with a knee injury followed by an illness, though, so simply getting work in is important for him at this point.
Since returning to action in February, Nadal has been spectacular. He has competed in six tournaments and reached the finals in all six of them, winning four. Nadal appears to be en route to at least a semifinal appearance in the Madrid Open, as there isn't much resistance to be offered in his part of the draw.
Because of all the time he missed, Nadal is only the No. 5-ranked player in the world right now. His recent play suggests that he is much better than that, but he still needs to prove it on the court.
Look for Nadal to breeze through to the semifinals, where a date with Roger Federer is quite possible. A win over his longtime rival would guarantee that Rafa is ready to defend his French Open crown.
Andy Murray is one of the best hard-court players in tennis, and while his clay-court play has definitely improved, he has a long way to go before he reaches Nadal's level in that regard. All signs point to the Brit having an opportunity to measure himself against Rafa, as his half of the draw is now wide open.
No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic was shocked by Grigor Dimitrov, so Murray won't meet another top-five player until the finals.
Which star will have the best Madrid Open performance?
Murray has never advanced past the French Open semifinals, so reaching the finals and perhaps winning the French Open are likely two goals of his this season. Last year was huge for Murray, as he won gold at the London Olympics and won his first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open, so his confidence has to be more prevalent than ever.
It remains to be seen if he can take that confidence with him on the clay courts.
Provided things go by the book, Murray should be able to rack up a few more wins in the Madrid Open in order to boost his confidence even more. Even if he loses to Nadal, Federer or whoever he may meet in the finals, simply getting to the finals would be a big step.
As long as Murray doesn't lose his focus, he should be able to get that far.
While 2013 hasn't exactly been a great year for Roger Federer, he has a golden opportunity to turn things around in the Madrid Open.
Federer has taken the past two months off and appears to have returned with a clear head. He has yet to advance past the quarterfinals in four tournaments this year, but the threats in his part of the draw are few and far between until Nadal in the semis.
Fed has already lost to Nadal once this year and it is no secret that he struggles against Rafa on clay. Nadal is an incredible 10-2 against Federer on clay and 18-10 against Federer overall. If not for the presence of Nadal, fans might be calling Federer one of the greatest clay-court players of all time.
He only has one French Open title. However, he could very easily have seven or eight. Nadal is simply that good.
With that said, Federer will have a chance to enter the French Open on a high note. Beating Nadal in the semis and then possibly beating Murray in the finals would be a huge deal. Even if Federer loses to Nadal, though, it's good that he is getting his feet under him on clay.
Federer will enter the French Open as a bit of a dark horse regardless, but he still has the tools necessary to do some damage.
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