Nadal looks to keep momentum at Madrid Masters
MADRID (AP) Rafael Nadal arrives at the Madrid Masters with a chance to erase any doubts about his form going into the French Open.
The Spaniard is coming off two straight titles. Another win at his home Masters, which will feature all top-10 players, would re-establish him as a leading contender heading into Roland Garros, which starts 16 May.
Nadal struggled last year, winning only three tournaments, but he has already won the Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open in 2016.
''I wasn't competing for titles in 2015. Now, in 2016, we will see. I am doing all I can to play at my best level,'' Nadal said on Sunday.
''I'm happy with how I have been playing for the past three weeks of competition. I don't know which Nadal I am going to find in Madrid, but I know that I am motivated, working well, and I hope to be ready.''
Nadal's game will be put to the test this week against a field that includes No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, defending champion Andy Murray and three-time winner Roger Federer.
Fifth-ranked Nadal will be trying to win the Madrid Masters for the third time in the last four years. He lost last year's final to Murray in one of his many disappointments of the season.
''Every player goes through periods where they don't necessarily play as well as they have done previously,'' Murray said. ''Rafa is still one of the best players on the surface and he still works as hard as he can on and off the court. I am sure he has gone away and worked at things since last year, so it's hard to say if he'll ever be back up to where he was, I guess we will have to wait and see.''
Murray and Nadal practiced together this week at the Spaniard's tennis academy in his home city of Manacor.
Murray's win in Madrid last year gave him his first ever Masters title on clay.
''My preparation last year was probably the best it's ever been for the clay,'' said the No. 2-ranked Murray. ''I prepared for the event more thoroughly than I had done in previous years. When you have done everything you can do to ensure that you're ready for the surface, it gives you confidence.''
Djokovic won his lone Madrid title in 2011, beating Nadal in the final.
''Rafa is everybody's main rival on clay courts because of his history on this surface and the results that he's had throughout his career,'' Djokovic said. ''This year, he's already showing a much higher quality of tennis. He really played terrifically in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. I'm sure he's very motivated to do well here. He's definitely the player to beat.''
Djokovic will be trying to win his third Masters of the year, following victories in Indian Wells and Miami. It will be his first clay-court tournament since being upset by 55th-ranked Jiri Vesely in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters. Djokovic hadn't lost in the second round in three years.
''The conditions are quite different in Madrid compared to those of other tournaments,'' Djokovic said. ''It's high altitude and the ball flies through the air very quickly. You have to adjust to those particular conditions, so I'm glad that I arrived earlier. I've had some very good practice sessions and I'm just hoping to get the best out of myself this week.''
Federer, the winner in 2012, was a late addition to the field in Madrid this year. The tournament was not originally on his schedule, but the third-ranked Swiss decided to include it as part of his preparations for Roland Garros. Federer lost to Nick Kyrgios in three sets in last year's second round in Madrid. It is Federer's second clay-court tournament of the season, and first since losing to Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters last month.
Federer and Nadal are set to meet in the quarterfinals in Madrid if they both advance through the draw.
Nadal is coming off a busy week away from the court. He was named flag-bearer for Spain at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and announced he was lodging a defamation suit against former French minister Roselyne Bachelot over doping accusations. He also wrote a letter to the International Tennis Federation requesting that all his anti-doping results and blood profile records be made public, and that results are released whenever players are tested.
Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson contributed to this report.
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