Roger Federer may be facing more questions than answers heading into the French Open later this month, but as a three-time champion at the Madrid Open, the Swiss legend is certainly a threat to repeat in the Spanish capital this May.
Federer blew through David Ferrer, Janko Tipsarevic and Tomas Berdych in the final three rounds to win a year ago on the controversial blue clay, but he'll likely have to overcome the king of clay, Rafa Nadal, this weekend in order to hang onto the crown.
Here we'll break down how Fed can surprise the tennis world this week and repeat as Madrid Open champion despite returning from a two-month hiatus.
Find Cheap Point Opportunities
If Roger Federer is going to defeat the likes of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in Madrid, he'll need to pick up some cheap points along the way.
Whether Fed is blasting aces down the line, jumping quickly on second-serve return points or coming to the net early and often, he'll have his chances to win short points and save some valuable energy for later on in the tournament.
Nearing age 32, Fed's body is beginning to say "no" to some of his physical requests. He's returning from a two-month layoff that gave him some time to be with his family and rest his sore back.
Cheap points don't come easy against guys like Nadal or Murray, but Fed can't be content to play long rallies against players five or six years younger than him if he's got a winner in his arsenal.
Cash In On Second-Serve Return Points
Again, this year's Madrid Open will be no walk in the park for Roger Federer. Even with Djokovic out of the picture, the way the draw is shaping up he'll still have to get through Nadal in order to hoist the trophy on Sunday.
That said, Fed must dominate on his second-serve return point opportunities. After all, he won 66 percent of them in his opening-match win over Radek Stepanek.
After Kei Nishikori in the round of 16, the first seeded opponent Federer would face would be Nadal in the semifinals this weekend. Taking two sets from Rafa on clay will require plenty of energy from Fed, especially when returning Nadal's second serve.
Breaking Nadal's serve on clay is obviously a difficult challenge, and seeing as he'll be most vulnerable on the second serve, that's when Fed must launch into attack mode.
If you don't like Roger Federer's chances of repeating as champion in Madrid this week, you're not alone. The 17-time Grand Slam champion is facing plenty of questions as he gets set for the French Open this summer.
Despite his remarkable success over the past decade, Fed has just one French Open title to show for his five career final appearances at Roland Garros.
While he's definitely among the top players on the planet with a tennis racquet in his hand, there's no denying that Federer is a different player on clay with a lot to prove at this point in his career.
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