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Madrid prepares for new king of the clay courts

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Dominc Thiem followed up his straight sets win over top seed Rafael Nadal with a 6-4 6-2 victory over the sixth seed Kevin Anderson. Reuters/Paul Hanna

There’ll be a new name on the men’s trophy this year at the Madrid Masters. And he will be only the ninth different player to claim the tournament since its inception in 2002.


Andre Agassi won that inaugural competition at the Madrid Arena when the final was the best of five sets and they played on indoor hard courts.

Juan Carlos Ferrero and Marat Safin were the champions in the subsequent two years.

In 2005 a teenager named Rafael Nadal became the fourth winner of the trophy after coming from two sets down to beat Ivan Ljubicic. Roger Federer, David Nalbandian and Andy Murray added their colours between 2006 and 2008.

Federer claimed his second crown in 2009 with a 6-4 6-4 victory over Nadal on the newly constructed outdoor clay courts at the Caja Magica.

And since then, the title has been in the keep of the so called ‘Big Four’ of Novak Djokovic – the eighth winner of the Madrid Masters - Murray, Federer and Nadal.

With Murray injured, Djokovic out of sorts following his elbow injury and Federer skipping the clay court season altogether, Nadal was the sole representative from the gang in the lists.

But his defeat in the last eight on Friday to Dominic Thiem opens the door for a fresh face.

Thiem, 24, will be the pundits’ choice following his impressively gutsy 7-5 6-3 victory over Nadal. But the 24-year-old Austrian will have to contend with the power plays of Denis Shapovalov or Alex Zverev.

He prepared for such a duel with a 6-4 6-2 victory over the big serving South African Kevin Anderson. It was Thiem’s first win over the 31-year-old in seven attempts though admittedly the Madrid semis was their first meeting on clay.

Should Shapovalov beat Zverev, the unseeded Canadian will continue his extraordinary run of success on clay. The 19-year-old had never won a clay court match on the main tour before Madrid.

But after accounting for his compatriot Milos Raonic in the last 16 on 10 May, he edged past the unseeded Briton Kyle Edmund in the quarter-final on 11 May.

Zverev, the second seed, should prove a tougher proposition. The 21-year-old German is ranked third in the world and has experience of the latter stages of a Masters event which are esteemed just below the four Grand Slam tournaments in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York.

Zverev beat Djokovic to win the Rome Masters in May 2017 and a few months later, he saw off Federer to claim the Montreal Masters.