MADRID – World No. 1 Rafael Nadal heads into the Madrid Masters this week in the unusual position of searching for his first title on European clay this season.
The 13-time Grand Slam champion has dominated on the surface throughout his career, including an incredible stretch last season that included wins in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and finally an eighth French Open title.
However, Nadal has so far struggled to bounce back from the back injury that hampered him in the Australian Open final, which he lost to Stanislas Wawrinka, in January.
His slump has included surprise defeats to compatriots David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro at the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open, respectively.
Yet, Nadal is hoping homecourt advantage will help him recapture his best form and a fourth title in Madrid.
“Spain is my country and every time I play in any tournament here it is something special. The crowd always make a big difference here,” said Nadal.
Nadal could be dethroned at the top of the world rankings by Novak Djokovic this week should he fail to reach the quarterfinals and the Serb goes on to win his second title in Madrid.
Djokovic has had injury problems himself recently due to a right wrist injury.
On the women’s side Serena Williams returns to defend the title she has won for the past two years.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion has taken over a month off citing tiredness after suffering a shock second-round defeat to Jana Cepelova on the green clay of Charleston.
However, worryingly for her competition in Madrid, Williams insisted she is feeling fresh ahead of her assault on the red clay over the European stretch.
“I’m so much better. I took so much time off and I needed it,” she admitted on Friday.
“I had just been playing for such a long time non-stop. It was actually really good for me to get that off. I feel really good and very positive, and I think that’s what matters most.”