[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=ion+tiriac&iid=2037723″ src=”3/8/2/c/ATP_Masters_Series_abca.jpg?adImageId=12796416&imageId=2037723″ width=”500″ height=”365″ /]

Under the guidance of the eccentric, brilliant Romanian visionary Ion Tiriac (the non-Swiss legend above), the Madrid event has evolved into the top ticket in European tennis outside Wimbledon and Roland Garros.  From its glamorous website to its sparkling arena, La Caja Magica (Magic Box), Tiriac’s territory exploits every opportunity to engage and inspire the spectator while assembling a superb cast of ATP and WTA stars.  In 2009, magic indeed filled the arena when Nadal and Djokovic dueled for four hours in the year’s most spectacular non-Slam match.  Special intrigue awaits this year as a reinvigorated Rafa strives to eclipse Agassi’s record of Masters titles before the eager eyes of his compatriots.  Will he overcome the thin air and relatively fast clay to extend his dominance on the surface, or will one of his rivals spoil the coronation?  Our familiar quarter-by-quarter preview lies straight ahead…

First quarter:  Since capturing his fourth Australian Open title, Federer has mustered a mortal-looking 5-4 record that includes three losses to players outside the top 20.  The defending champion in La Caja Magica, he relished the speedier surface last year when he conquered Nadal in the final as a prelude to a record-breaking summer.  Aligned to meet him in the third round is his compatriot Wawrinka, who ambushed him in Monte Carlo last year and shone in Rome, although he’ll be arriving (not) fresh from Belgrade.  On the other side of the quarter is Miami champion Roddick, never at his most effective on clay but a quarterfinalist here last year.  If the American escapes a tricky potential opener against Lopez, he’ll need to weather the scorching groundstrokes of Gulbis in the third round, an assignment that he nearly flunked two years ago at the US Open.  Nevertheless, the Latvian has yet to prove that he can sustain an elevated level for an extended period, so one can’t rely on him to produce an extended run here.  Another clash with Roddick might be just what the doctor ordered to put Federer back on track, for the American always seems to bring out the best in the Swiss.

Semifinalist:  Federer

Second quarter:  While Roddick should reach the quarters in the upper section, Querrey might well duplicate the accomplishment in this rather tranquil neighborhood, headlined by the clay-averse Murray.  A challenging second round against the resilient grinder Andreev should confront the American, but he should take the momentum from his promising run in Belgrade into a third-round clash with the Scot, who has looked almost farcically ghastly since losing the Australian Open final.  More positive about clay than Murray, Querrey should have a chance to reach a quarterfinal with the indefatigable Ferrer.  Kudos to the recently dormant Cilic for reaching the Munich final this week on his least comfortable surface, but the eighth seed hasn’t vaulted a hurdle like the Spanish counterpuncher.  Having adroitly dispatched Murray in Rome, Ferrer should either repeat that feat or exploit his experience to outwit the still-raw Querrey.

Semifinalist:  Ferrer

Third quarter:  Clearly the most scintillating first-round match, Berdych-Nalbandian promises a thrilling shot-making display from two competitors whose styles should adapt well to the altitude.  Speaking of altitude, Karlovic might pose an immediate threat to the surging Verdasco, who must vigilantly preserve his focus to seize the few opportunities that arise against the towering Croat.  Also in early danger is the quarter’s other anchor; Soderling likely will face dirt devils Almagro and Monaco prior to a quarterfinal with Verdasco.  After a well-merited week of rest, the Spaniard should arrive in his native city ready to recapture the form that he displayed in Monte Carlo and Rome, where he acquired the mantle of Nadal’s principal challenger at Roland Garros.  (Had a marathon quarterfinal against Djokovic not drained his energies, he probably would have defeated Ferrer to set up a second consecutive final with Rafa.)  Despite achieving his breakthrough last year on clay, Soderling wobbled in Rome against the much less imposing Wawrinka and fell to Verdasco in the Barcelona final.

Semifinalist:  Verdasco

Fourth quarter:  We’re excited to see the mercurial Monfils back in action after yet another of his extended absences.  A third-round meeting with compatriot Tsonga might define the principal home hope at Roland Garros while beguiling the audience with one of the most electrifying displays of athleticism that the sport will ever afford.  Unfortunately for “les bleus,” though, the winner of that pas de deux probably won’t survive another round.  Looming at the base of the quarter is Nadal, who finds himself in his familiar #2 niche after Djokovic’s timely withdrawal.  Rafa should comfortably dispatch Seppi before confronting Isner, possibly cause for a furrowed eyebrow or two on a surface more friendly to the serve than any other clay tournament.  Although the American snatched a set from Nadal in Indian Wells, we doubt that he is ready to follow Soderling’s example, nor are the fun-loving but slightly flaky Frenchmen.

Semifinalist:  Nadal

Semifinals:  Ferrer def. Federer, Nadal def. Verdasco

Final:  Nadal def. Ferrer

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=nadal+ferrer&iid=8686640″ src=”9/8/1/7/Sports_News_2f5c.jpg?adImageId=12797194&imageId=8686640″ width=”500″ height=”724″ /]


We look forward to blanketing Madrid with our coverage over the next eight days!  🙂  Stay tuned for sorcery…