The red-hot Rafael Nadal will look to carry his brilliant form into his home nation’s capital on Tuesday, as he kicks off his 2016 Mutua Madrid Open campaign against Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov. The four-time Madrid champion enters the match on a ten-match winning streak, playing his best tennis in years and is looking to build more momentum going into the French Open.
The match will be third on Manolo Santana and will not start before 4:00 PM local time (10:00 AM EST).
How they got here
Nadal received a bye in the opening round, and therefore will be contesting his first match of the tournament. Kuznetsov was impressive in his opening match, beating 24th ranked Viktor Troicki in straight sets. The Russian was solid on serve from that match, saving all five break points he faced, and took advantage of his few opportunities on the return, breaking once in each set to set the date with Nadal.
Nadal leads their head-to-head 2-0, but it has hardly been easy for the Spaniard. They pair most recently met at the event in Doha earlier this season, with Nadal emerging victorious in a hard-fought three-set quarterfinal. On that day, Kuznetsov heaped pressure on the Nadal serve, breaking the Spaniard four times. But his serve was not quite good enough and Nadal responded with five breaks of his own. The pair have played once before on clay, with Nadal blowing out the Russian last year in the third round of the French Open with the loss of only six games.
For Andrey Kuznetsov to have any chance in this match, he needs to come out swinging and be perfect on both serve and return. Early in Monte Carlo, Nadal showed some vulnerability and opponents were able to put pressure on him. If Nadal is going to be at all vulnerable, it will be in the early stages. The Spaniard has also been off for a week so maybe there will be some rust.
But just serving well or returning well will not be enough. He needs to do both. Nadal can be surprisingly hard to break, especially on clay, despite not having a huge serve and his return is legendary. Kuznetsov needs to pile on the pressure from the start all the way to the end. He cannot let up, even for a game. He was outchanced in the first round by Troicki, and while he was up to the challenge on that day, Nadal is another monster entirely.
Prediction: Nadal in two sets
Nadal has made three straight finals in Madrid, and six of the seven since the tournament moved to clay in 2009. Kuznetsov was able to put Nadal under pressure on hard court in Doha, but beating the Spaniard on clay is another beast entirely, especially with the way Nadal is playing. He is confident after winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona, the latter without dropping a set.
The Russian has had some good results on clay on the lower levels of the tour, but has not tasted the success on the red dirt on the main tour. A struggling Nadal blew out Kuznetsov on clay last year. It’s highly unlikely that the Russian will do any better against the rejuvenated King of Clay.