(7)Carlos Alcaraz d. (2)Alexander Zverev 6-2, 6-1
1, 2, 4, 7
SEEDS: ONE & DONE (1st Match Loss)
3 out of 16
MADRID NEWS & NOTES
*Carlos Alcaraz seeks to become the first repeat champion in Madrid since Rafael Nadal won in 2013 and 2014. Alcaraz ran threw the top three seeds in Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal en route to the title in 2022. The Spanish phenom won the championship match as a sturdy 1.54 (-185) favorite. The last underdog winner in Madrid was barely that in 2018 when Zverev beat Dominic Thiem at 2.00 (+100). The most recent “big hit” in the championship match came in 2015 when Andy Murray stunned Nadal as a 3.36 (+236) dog.
*Only two of the last seven runs in Madrid have seen a title match go three sets. The last coming in 2021 when Zverev outlasted Matteo Berrettini in three. The five Madrid finales over that span that ended in straight sets have only gone to totals of 20 or higher twice. The 2022 Madrid Open saw three set finales needed in 21 matches of the 54 completed matches. That was about in line with 2021 which saw 22 matches go the distance. 2019 was also steady along those lines with 21 of the completed matches going three sets. The first round seems to be the place to seek out the three setters with eight going that way last year and both 2021 and 2022 seeing double digit three set matches in the opening round. It makes sense of course with 24 first round matches.
*Seventeen underdogs scored wins in Madrid last year. The largest came via Dusan Lajovic’s upset of (5)Casper Ruud in round two at 5.68 (+468). The majority of the dog hits came in rounds one and two with 14 combined in those early rounds. 2021 saw even more dogs biting with 20 of the 55 completed matches going the way of the dog. Eleven of those came in rounds one and two. The biggest score came again via an upset of a seed in round two when (14)Jannik Sinner fell to Alexei Popyrin. The Aussie was at 5.81 (+481) for the match. Last year was a low mark with only three seeds going one and done. There had been five in each of the previous two runs and I suspect we may see more this year with all seeds getting first round byes.
*Last year was the first since 2015 that Madrid did not have at least one unseeded player in the quarterfinals. Casper Ruud was the last unseeded semifinalist in 2021. There have been three of those in the last five runs of the Madrid Open since 2017. The last unseeded finalist was way back in 2008 when Gilles Simon crashed the party in a finals’ loss to Andy Murray. That was when this tournament was still held on hard courts, so since 2009 when they flipped to clay – there have been ZERO unseeded finalists in Madrid.
*One of the differences you’ll find in Madrid each year is varying court speed depending on the weather conditions. Sunny skies usually yield some quicker clay conditions, while cloudy and humid conditions of course take some speed off the ball. It can be a continual adaptation some years and is some of the reason while Nadal didn’t dominate this stop as much as he did others on clay. A quick glance at the forecast for the first three to four days in Madrid shows sunny and very warm. If the forecast holds into next week, it looks like we could see many sunny and warm days which should yield quicker conditions. That’s something to remember when you’re looking at some of those guys more comfortable on hard courts because the quicker conditions could help aid their cause a bit.
*There has been a lot more talk coming into this tournament about who IS NOT going to be in this year’s field and rightfully so with quite a few injury withdrawals. That includes world number one Novak Djokovic, long-term absentee Rafael Nadal and one of the more in-form, all-surface players in Jannik Sinner. What Madrid does have is Carlos Alcaraz looking healthy off his Barcelona championship. With some of those big names missing, he’ll be the massive favorite to win again this week. At 1.91 (-110) on the outright markets, the Spaniard is probably worth going after even though I generally don’t like taking outrights at around even odds or lower. Stefanos Tsitsipas slides in as the number four seed, but a distant second in the market at 11.0 (+1000). The Greek seems properly placed ahead of the likes of second seed Daniil Medvedev and slumping third seed Casper Ruud. Tsitsipas made the final here in 2019 and was a semifinalist last year. Medvedev has won here just one time in four career matches, while Ruud did make the semifinals in 2021, but outside of his Estoril title run, has not been able to win consecutive matches in all eight of the other events he has taken part in so far in 2023.
*The danger guys could be found in the seeded field from spots five through eight where you have an in-form Andrey Rublev, Holger Rune, who has won eight of his last nine on clay, and Taylor Fritz who made back-to-back semifinalst in Monte-Carlo an Munich. Rublev seems a logical threat who you can consider on your outright lists this week with the weather conitions likely to be present. The Russian has made back-to-back finals in Monte-Carlo and Banka Luka, both of which didn’t exactly feed the speed of his power forehand. One thing to rememeber for Rublev is that four of his five career matches in Madrid have gone three sets. Rune plays here for the first time, so it will be interesting to see if he can adapt to the conditions. Felix Auger-Aliassime is the seventh seed here, but left out of the discussion so far as the Canadian has yet to play on clay in 2023. Fritz meanwhile should have a shot to get just his second win in Madrid. He’s 1-2 in his career, but could easily double that or better this time around.
*Amongst the rest of the field, (13)Alexander Zverev’s name sticks out despite his mostly lackluster 2023. Zverev has won here twice and made the final again in 2022. The German has looked close to “breaking out” a few times this year, only to see a bad result derail his progress. The latest came with an opening loss to Christopher O’Connell last week in Munich. That came on the heels of a solid round of 16 showing in Monte-Carlo where Zverev again lost a tough three set match against Medvedev. That was the same fate we saw for him at Indian Wells. Regardless, Madrid has always seemed to jive with his playing style with the German making the quarterfinals or better each of his five trips. The unfortunate thing for him this year is that he’s in Alcaraz’s quarter.
*Seeds who arrive with a bit of juice behind them include (15)Lorenzo Musetti who has played his best tennis the last few weeks with a quarterfinal result in Monte-Carlo followed by a semifinal in Barcelona. His best wins in that span came against an out-of-sorts Djokovic in MC and a slumping Cameron Norrie last week in Barcelona. He still has something to prove against the top tier guys to me, but the Italian seems to at least have found a better rhythm than he had early in the season when he struggled to win anything. (19)Dan Evans COULD be a threat again this week with the conditions in place. The Brit had one of his best clay court runs in Barcelona with a surprising trip to the semifinals. He’s made the round of 16 in Madrid two straight trips. And there’s (23)Botic van de Zandschulp who will need to shake off a major league choke in the Munich final this week, but nonetheless comes off a week that saw him beat Fritz and battle Rune to a difficult 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(3) loss in that final. He has been a fairly tough out on clay this year, but we will see if he is able to get himself back together after blowing a 5-2 lead in the final set of that Munich title match.
*Be aware of qualifiers. Three, Dusan Lajovic, David Goffin and Lorenzo Musetti, made the round of 16 last year in Madrid. Goffin narrowly lost to Nadal in a third set tie break in that round. 2021 saw both Alexei Popyrin and Federico Delbonis make the last 16. And 2018 bred one of the best qualifying runs in Madrid with Lajovic again the man as he made it all the way to the quarterfinals. Qualifiers have proven useful in Madrid and there are some solid players in that field again in 2023, so be sure to know where they fall in the draw.
I think there are some seeds in this section that will be in danger in their openers off of byes. Remember in Madrid, all 32 seeds get first round byes. With the conditions here different from a lot of the previous clay stops, that can play into the hands of the players who come into round two with a match in hand. I see two in the top half who I might put in that targeted category in (22)Korda and (26)Dimitrov. Korda comes in off a lengthy injury layoff, so rust could be very real when he battles either Schwartzman or Grenier. Yes, Schwartzman doesn’t really instill a lot of hope if he is in that spot due to his poor run, but I think he’s still capable against a rusty opponent. I’m colder on the qualifiers in this section to do much. Dimitrov I’m a bit less worried about being prone to the opening upset because of the matchups and he’s coming off an illness in Barcelona that shouldn’t affect his chances in Madrid. Korda is the intriguing guy in this top half with Alcaraz. Having not played since Australia, he’s got a lot to prove, but can be a pest on clay. He could be in Zverev’s way to a round of 16 meeing with Alcaraz if he finds a rhythm quickly. I’m not suggesting Alcaraz is going to lose early, but his opener might be tougher than expected with both Ruusuvuori and Humbert capable of using the conditions to their advantage to keep the sets tight.
In the bottom half, Rublev and Khachanov lead the seeds along with Bautista Agut and Nishioka. Rublev is the form, but faces a harsh opener perhaps with Wawrinka or Cressy waiting. Wawrinka owns a few wins over Rublev, but obviously is not quite in the form he was when those matches went down. Cressy’s serve and volley could work better in the heat in Madrid making him a tougher out. I’d still side with Rublev, but won’t be surprised if whomever he faces keeps it close. In this quadrant, Nishioka is also one who looks prone to an upset with Wu or Molcan in round two. Nishioka showed better last week, but has normally not been as big a factor on clay. As for Khachanov, he’s never had good results in Madrid with four one and dones out of five trips. That’s why I have him on the one and done watch with Monteiro or Gojo first up. He’s beat Monteiro in all their meetings, but most have been competitive. Bautista Agut is also one who may have trouble in his starter with guys in Popyrin and Halys who can do damage with the quicker conditions. Popyrin already proved that in 2021 when he made the round of 16. I expect his match with Halys to be one of the more competitive of the first round. This section seems very open to a bit of a surprise runner in the last 16. Popyrin, Halys and Monteiro might be the most likely.
Despite Alcaraz’s dominant display against Zverev in last year’s final, the German certainly fits the role of the guy in this quarter who might have the best shot to score a huge upset. He’s beaten Alcaraz in three of four meetings, including their last which came at the 2022 French Open after Carlos had whipped Zverev in that Madrid final. An Alcaraz-Rublev quarterfinal is how this is seeded to play out, but I feel like something gets in the way. Those two did play for the first time last December in the Abu Dhabi exhibition with the Russian crushing the Spaniard 6-2, 6-1. I don’t read anything into that with Alcaraz playing there for the first time since his injury in Paris. He looked short on form and fitness then, something you can’t say now. This quarter still seems likely to come down to Alcaraz, Rublev and you have to consider Zverev a player too.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Monteiro/Gojo over (10)Khachanov
Popyrin/Halys over (20)Bautista Agut
Schwartzman/Grenier over (22)Korda
Wu/Molcan over (28)Nishioka
The top half here could yield Ruud some traction to getting out of his funk and perhaps finding some increasingly rare back-to-back wins. He gets a qualifier to start and the other seed, Griekspoor, has not been as effective on clay with three straight losses. I think the dangerous floater to watch in this half is the winner between Kokkinakis and Munar in round one. Kokkinakis in particular could get some extra “oomph” with the Madrid conditions enhancing his power game. The bottom part of this half should be Musetti’s for the taking with an out-of-form Carreno Busta as the other seed. PCB will be fortunate if he avoids an opening loss, something he’s seen in six of seven trips to Madrid. With Musetti’s recent confidence building wins and Ruud scuffling in 2023, the Italian definitely could slot into the last 16 and even a step farther into the quarters.
In the other half, Rune comes in with the form but plays here for the first time. The Dane is 7-1 on clay in 2023, but Madrid is a different animal, so let’s see how he fares. The draw looks conducive to another decent week for the 6th seed albeit with some trouble makers waiting. Davidovich Fokina could be one if the Spaniard can avoid a potentially tough starter against Ramos-Vinolas or Ivashka. Rune has yet to meet ADF at this level, so the Spaniard might have an edge playing on home soil in a tournament where he’s proven to be very competitive even in defeat. Up top, it would be surprising if Hurkacz didn’t push into the round of 16. The Pole has a solid draw and played well here a year ago with a quarterfinal berth. Coric is the other seed and carries a five game losing skid into Madrid. He’s also been bounced in the first round in each of the last two trips to this tournament. Neither Chardy or Gaston carries anything in the way of form, so perhaps this is Coric’s shot to break that skid – but I’ll wait and see. It seems likely this section comes down to Rune, Hurkacz and maybe Davidovich Fokina if he can find more consistency.
This quarter seems wide open for me. Yes Rune has the form, but there are tricky foes in his way. Hurkacz I think is a good outlier in this section with the conditions here likely to boost him if his serve is in tune for the next ten days. The big question here for me is whether or not Ruud can take advantage of a lighter early draw to find some confidence in his game that is sorely missing. I’d rate Musetti as a dark horse to get to the last eight as a result and the recent weeks show that he could be up to the task.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Kotov/Otte over (18)Carreno Busta
Chardy/Gaston over (22)Coric
Ramos-Vinolas over (29)Davidovich Fokina
Kokkinakis/Munar over (30)Griekspoor
The top half of this quarter sees all four seeds with plenty of questions. Auger-Aliassime comes in as the lead, but has not played in a month. He could meet an in-form Lajovic who just had a momentous week in Serbia winning his second career title. The Serb also owns two career wins over the Canadian, so that’s definitely one to watch if Lajovic avoids a first round letdown to open. Shelton is the other seed in this top half and the American remains a work-in-progress on clay at this level. He’s been competitive, but stands at just 2-3 in this clay swing. Shelton has sleeper potental I think, but he has had trouble backing up wins since Australia. Keep an eye on the Sonego-Struff opener. The Italian beat Felix for the first time in Dubai this season and of course may not even have to contend with the Canadian. Struff has shown better in recent weeks despite a flat showing in the final round of qualifying. He got the lucky loser save and is capable of making that pay off with a win or two if he finds his serve – so that opener with Sonego should be good.
Tiafoe is the highest seed after Auger-Aliassime, positioned opposite of FAA in the bottom half. It’s possible that Tiafoe could open with a rematch against Etcheverry in round two. Those two battled in the Houston final a few weeks ago with Big Foe surviving. Tiafoe lost his opener in Barcelona to Ruusuvuori, while Etcheverry split two matches. Perhaps the sturdiest seed by the looks of it could be Cerundolo, who is also in the section with Tiafoe. The Argentine has a better early draw, but fellow countryman Cachin could be an opening struggle if things fall to that matchup. This is an intriguing section and a big opportunity for one of these guys. These are the moments where guys like Tiafoe need to step up, but have struggled to do so on clay. That might make Cerundolo a better option to sneak into the round of 16.
In the other half, Tsitsipas will surely be considered the favorite to advance. It will be fun to see if Thiem gets in his way early though as the Austrian should have that shot with a winnable opener. Thiem has played very well at this stop in his career with two finals under his belt in Madrid although he was dropped in round one against Andy Murray in 2022. Still, he’s shown some better play since the clay swing started, so let’s see if he can find that break through win. I still give Tsitsipas a big edge given his form and prowess in Madrid historically. Two of the other seeds in this section could be prone to upsets in (14)Tommy Paul and (25)Sebastian Baez. Paul struggled in the switch to clay in an opening loss in Houston and hasn’t shown well in Madrid. Jarry or QUALIFIER is going to be a tough out for him. Baez has slumped after a good start on clay with consecutive one and dones in Monte-Carlo and Munich. That could make Borges or Giron a player who could add to his woes. Dan Evans really is the other guy to watch as far as seeds. The Brit runs in hot from Barcelona and has the nice early draw to grab a win. A possible Paul-Evans second rounder would be a good watch with the pair splitting two career matches, both ending in three sets. Like Tiafoe, this is one of those opportunities that Paul would need to step up and take.
Tsitsipas looks like a solid shot to make the quarterfinals, but the question certainly is who is there opposite of him? Auger-Aliassime had a solid, yet not spectacular start to 2023. The answer we’re looking for now is how he has recovered from the knee injury that has kept him sidelined for a month. If he’s fit, then there is certainly a route for him to make a run. Even at his best, he has been troubled by Tsitsipas in losing five of the last six meetings, so I wouldn’t expect him to unseat the Greek. I’m looking at maybe Cerundolo or Shelton as a surprise for the quarters and perhaps this is the section to spring an unseeded runner. Lajovic. Sonego. Cachin. Etcheverry. All have some potential. In the end, Tsitsipas looks like a fairly solid shot to get out of this quarter and could be on that outright radar in the opposite half of Alcaraz again.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Lajovic over (7)Auger-Aliassime
Etcheverry over (9)Tiafoe
Jarry/Safiullin over (14)Paul
Cachin over (24)Cerundolo
Borges/Giron over (25)Baez
Sonego/Struff over (32)Shelton
Medvedev comes to Madrid with just one win in four career tries at this tournament. He is in the midst of a superb season to this point at 31-4 and did make the quarters on clay in Monte-Carlo. Could this be another one of those seasons where Meddy is immune to being a non-factor on dirt? You would think the conditions in Madrid would have yielded better things for the #2 seed with Medvedev enjoying quicker hard court type conditions. Although Madrid isn’t quite that even with the sun, it should play quicker and more to his liking. I’d watch the qualifiers in this section with Vavassori and and Scevchenko capable and looking good in qualis. I would not be surprised if one of them won a match or even two. Vavassori against Murray should be a good one and Shevchenko I think can beat Wolf. Lehecka is the wildcard, playing well but not scoring any a meaningful win on this swing just yet.
The other part of this half – watch the qualifiers, especially Cecchinato. The Italian is 1-3 against Fucsovics, but the one win did come on clay. If he can get through, he matches well against de Minaur whom he has beaten three times – all on clay – in six career meetings. Karatsev likely won’t be much of a factor, especially if van De Zandschulp plays like he did against him in Munich (6-3, 6-0). The Dutchman looks the likelier of the seeds to make it farther in this section and could be a deep runner if he can avoid Medvedev. Medvedev is now 4-0 against him. I tend to think Medvedev can clear this path and make the round of 16, but I do think Lehecka might be a fascinating foe to test the Russian on this surface.
The other half houses Fritz, Norrie, Shapovalov and Kecmanovic as the seeds. Only Fritz carries good form into the week. The American has not done much in Madrid at 1-2, but he’s shown better prowess on clay this year and looks to be a bigger threat. I like his draw although O’Connell now looks a bit tougher as a potential opener after his nice run in Munich last week. Kecmanovic has had his moments on clay already with a trip to the Estoril final, but he’s just 2-2 since that loss. Garin or Huesler poses a risk for him in round two. Norrie avoided an opening loss after dropping two straight coming to Barcelona last week. I think he’ll be in for a fight in his starter this week with both Moutet and Lestienne playing him tough in the past. The plus is that Moutet has not played since Australia and Lestienne plays better on hard courts for the most part. As always for Shapovalov, any win is a good win these days. The Canadian is 7-8 and still without consecutive wins at the same tournament since Australia. Norrie hasn’t been troubled by him in two career meetings, so the Brit could have a shot to get back on track this week. For me, I think it’s Fritz or Norrie in this section. They’ve split 12 career meetings with Fritz edging the last one at the United Cup. They have never met on clay.
If there is a time for Medvedev to overcome the clay court flu, this is the spot to me. It’s a workable draw and the conditions in Madrid look like they should play more into his favor at this run. Fritz is probably the second choice simply because he’s been consistent. There are a lot of ifs, ands or buts in this quarter and perhaps that means it ends up with a weird semifinalist in the end. Lehecka or van de Zandschulp? I’d still prefer taking a stand with Medvedev.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Fucsovics/Cecchinato over (16)de Minaur
Garin/Huesler over (27)Kecmanovic
So the deal for me has always been mostly avoiding outrights that stand somewhere around even odds. However with all the absentees this week and the form of Alcaraz, we’re in prime Nadal French Open or prime Djokovic Australian Open territory. There is one player who is clearly heads and shoulders above the rest and looking at Alcaraz at 1.91 (-110) is something I can’t say is a bad idea. We know if he is in the final, there isn’t a matchup where you’ll find him as anything but a substantial favorite. That said, the prospect of a Zverev meeting in his quarter is a spot that would worry me some. I know Zverev is void of big wins this year, but he’s been close of late against Medvedev twice and has that confidence of beating Alcaraz in their last meeting. So for me again, I’m going to pass on the Alcaraz odds even if they seem like a slam dunk.
For me, I think the first strategy as always is looking to the opposite half where your pick is going to stay away from Alcaraz as long as possible. Tsitsipas as the second favorite in the market at 11.0 (+1000) seems solid and I think you can make an argument for going with Medvedev at 15.0 (+1400) this week. I’ll make the argument against it though noting that he’s made just one ATP level final on clay and that was in Barcelona back in 2019. I just don’t think it’s in his DNA to win one on dirt outside of maybe a random 250 with a depleted field. So another pass for me although again I can understand it if you’re in on Meddy this week. For me, I’m looking to some longer odds with along Tsitsipas as my main choice. Fritz falls into the Medvedev category with ten career finals and none on clay. That said, he’s been more consistent on the surface and closer the last few weeks. At around 34.0 (+3300), the American might fit the longshot take this week.
And what of Zverev who has played so well here? If you believe the German can take out Alcaraz along the way, he’s at 19.0 (+1800). That’s fourth on the market, so the odds makers firmly believe his past success here means something and clay has been a more consistent surface for him. You could make the case that it’s better to wait and see if he goes against Alcaraz and just take the German straight up in that one. He was around 4.00 (+300) for their French Open match, so that’s still juicy odds albeit I’d think they’d be a tick lower here with his history and it being best of three where upsets happen more readily. So it’s tomato versus potato for you if you’re considering the German. If you’re sticking with taking someone in the same half, perhaps Hurkacz is a better choice at a whopping 60.0 (+5000). The Pole is in Ruud’s quarter which is a big plus and Rune seems the biggest threat perhaps in that section. If Rune had a better early path, I might consider him, but he’s potentially got Davidovich Fokina early whereas Hurkacz might have Coric who has been in a slump.
It’s interesting that the top seed has only won in Madrid twice since 2015 and both times it was Novak Djokovic. Alcaraz finally broke his jinx on defending a title in Barcelona last week, so it’s probably more likely that he’ll be immune to the top seed problems in Madrid and further cement his status as one of the favorites to win the French Open. The bottom line for me this week in making my picks is once against trying to find the guy who can make the final. That’s all you can ask for in taking an outright. The longer odds to stay away from Alcaraz are where I’m looking. Good fortune to all those who choose to roll the dice.
Tsitsipas 11.0 (+1000)
Fritz 34.0 (+3300)