With the French Open about two weeks around the corner, the 2013 Mutua Madrid Open gives some of tennis' greatest stars the chance to fine-tune their game before preparing for the next major championship.
Not everything has gone as planned for said stars.
Novak Djokovic has already felt the sting of a loss in Madrid this week, dropping an early contest to Grigor Dimitrov, who has made more headlines about his current choice in companionship than he has his win over the world's No. 1 player (h/t NESN on Twitter):
Maria Sharapova Reportedly Dating Tennis Star Grigor Dimitrov, Gives Him $105,000 Car (Photos) http://t.co/UbXaKH5SHZ5/9/2013, 4:27:13 PM
The Djoker might be out of the field, but beneath him on both the men's and women's side of the bracket there are matches to be played to give us a champion in Madrid and get us ready for the impending French Open at the end of May.
Would any of tennis' top stars fall on Thursday in their pursuit of that goal? Look below to find out.
*For a complete look at the results from the 2013 Madrid Open, click here.
Serena was Serena on Thursday, knocking off Russian Maria Kirilenko in straight sets—6-3, 6-1.
With the win she moves on to the quarterfinals of the event, where Anabel Medina Garrigues will await her in the next round. Williams managed to utterly dominate Kirilenko on Thursday, making it unlikely she will be anything but in tip-top form for her next match.
Williams showed us yet again why she's the best women's tennis player on earth right now in the straight-set victory, showing a nice return game and making Kirilenko work the baseline for everything before out-classing her at will.
She dropped just four of the 16 games on Thursday and moves on comfortably to the quarterfinals of an event she is already the defending champion at after her dismantling of Victoria Azarenka in the finals last year.
To catch Serena's interview with TennisTV after the match, click here.
Nadal has made headlines over the past week for his seeding at the French Open, which the committee will apparently not change heading into the major tournament (h/t SI.com).
He's currently the No. 5 player in the world behind Djokovic (one of only two men to beat him this year), Roger Federer, Andy Murray and David Ferrer, the last of whom he crushed in the final of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in early March.
If he keeps playing like he did on Thursday, he won't be the No. 5 seed for very much longer.
With his sights set on yet another Madrid Open title (he won in 2005 and 2010), Nadal took to the court on Thursday, taking down Russian Mikhail Youzhny in straight-set fashion, 6-2, 6-3. The win made Nadal the first man to reach the final eight on the men's side of the bracket with the dominating win.
Only losing two games in the first set, TennisTV had a great look at Nadal's serves from that initial set on Twitter following the match:
Tennis TV @TennisTV
Good look at where Nadal placed his serves in that first set #atp http://t.co/ZBH8XQU2145/9/2013, 2:11:21 PM
Nadal is back in rare form.
A final-round win would be Nadal's fifth overall victory of the 2013 season, and also make him 7-of-7 in reaching the final round of tournaments that he's played in so far.
As mentioned in the introduction, Sharapova is always making headlines for things other than tennis. She's the subject of fantasies all over the world, and Dimitrov is the latest beau to strike her fancy, making him a target for paparazzi and reports that won't end until the hype dies down.
Lucky for Sharapova, she's still making moves on the tennis court, too.
Like her No. 1 counterpart Williams, Sharapova took care of her opponent in straight-set fashion on Thursday. Sabine Lisicki gave Sharapova a good run in the second set, but fell to her big-time opponent 6-2, 7-5 on Thursday afternoon.
The win keeps a potential Williams-Sharapova final alive—for now.
The duo met in the quarterfinals at the 2012 Madrid Open to the tune of a Serena win, but this is a new season and Sharapova would be happy to knock Williams off her perch and avoid giving her back-to-back titles at the Open.
Sharapova managed to use her serve to her advantage in the match against Lisicki, eventually pulling an ace in the late stages to get the ball rolling on three unforced errors and the ultimate win. Sharapova now also moves into the quarterfinals in 2013, where she'll face Kaia Kanepi.
Federer took a page out of his biggest rival's book on Thursday, but not one that gives us confidence for him to be a dominant force at the French Open in a couple of weeks.
No. 1 rival Djokovic had already lost in this tournament, meaning the path was paved for Murray, Nadal and Federer to battle it out for the Open title in a few days.
Federer dropped a three-set decision to Kei Nishikori on Thursday, losing 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, effectively ending his week in Madrid and further giving Nadal—a noted killer on clay—a clearer path to the Madrid Open title later on in the event.
Federer Roger @federer_roger
Highlights Federer-Nishikori. Roger lost today. Hope he will process this constructively and prepare himself for... http://t.co/NiLI6FtA5U5/9/2013, 5:14:27 PM
Federer is a three-time champion at the Madrid Open, and is also the defending champion of the event, beating Tomas Berdych in the final last year. He also holds the record for most trips to the finals (5) in Madrid.
He won't have a chance to expand on those marks this year, though, as Nishikori managed to get FedEx out of his comfort zone early and survive a terrible second set to otherwise beat Federer at his own game.
It's been a wild week in Madrid and no one has been safe—even the sports' biggest stars. Hopefully the action will continue to keep pace with the expectations of the first few days.
Follow Ethan Grant on Twitter: