BARCELONA – Rafael Nadal will look to win his sixth Madrid Open this week and continue a run of 46 sets unbeaten.
The world number one’s winning streak stretches back to the start of the French Open last year.
Novak Djokovic, the 12-time Grand Slam winner, could be Nadal’s biggest opponent this week, although his wild card entry into last week’s Barcelona Open ended in defeat to Martin Klizan, and he has been given a tough draw in Madrid.
He will get under way on Monday against Monte Carlo Masters runner-up Kei Nishikori in the first round, with British number one Kyle Edmund waiting for him in round two if he overcomes the Russian Daniil Medvedev.
The Belgian world number seven David Goffin is a potential third-round opponent, with Gregor Dimitrov and Barcelona Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas waiting for him in the quarter and semi-finals.
Nadal, who won the Madrid Open in 2005, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2017, has a potentially kinder draw than Djokovic.
He faces a possible second-round meeting with Frenchman Gael Monfils. Croatia’s Borna Coric could await him in the third round, with Dominic Thiem and Juan Martin del Potro likely opponents in the quarter and semi-finals.
They are seen as perhaps even greater threats to Nadal than injury-troubled Djokovic.
The woman’s tournament will be missing Serena Williams, who withdrew in the week leading up to the Open and Venus Williams who was beaten by Anett Kontaveit 3-6 6-3 6-2 on Saturday.
Home fans will be cheering world number three Gabine Muguruza who was triumphant in Paris in 2016 and at Wimbledon last year.
Favourite for the women’s crown will be Simona Halep, who has won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017 and could become the first to win the tournament three years in a row.
Despite her recent record in the tournament, Halep is only third seed behind second seed Karolina Plizkova and first seed Angelique Kerber.
Halep, the 26-year-old Romanian, is hoping more success in Madrid will set her up for Roland Garros later this month, where she will be gunning for her first Grand Slam.
With Roland Garros staring on May 27, Nadal and Halep will be looking to warm-up with victories in Madrid, but both will have to be at their best.
Nadal, at least, will be able to count on home support.
“We have always been lucky with the Madrid public, they always respond,” he said recently.
“If there is one place in the world where the people help me win, it is Madrid.”