World number two Novak Djokovic is going to let his tennis do the talking for the time being as the 12-time Grand Slam champion is not giving any ideas away of who his new coach will be. Reports are saying that fellow former world number one Andre Agassi is the favourite to take Djokovic under his wing. Nonetheless, Djokovic is currently defending his title at the Mutua Madrid Open and his clay court season has been tricky thus far. The former world number one defeated Gilles Simon and Pablo Carreno Busta in three sets at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters but he was unable to defeat David Goffin in the quarterfinals. Nevertheless, the reigning French Open champion is looking to go a good run in Madrid and Rome, ahead of the second Grand Slam tournament of the year.
Djokovic's third-round opponent at the Caja Magica will be a familiar face in Feliciano Lopez. The 35-year-old Spaniard has had an average 2017 campaign, and he is currently ranked at 38 in the world.
The veteran was on a five-match losing streak suffering losses to Benoit Paire, Pierre-Hugues Hebert, Jordan Thompson, Dusan Lajovic and Malek Jaziri in Montpellier, Rotterdam, Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami respectively. Lopez snapped his losing streak at his first clay court event in Houston when he defeated Bjorn Frantangelo and Hyeon Chung before losing to Jack Sock in the quarterfinals. The former world number 12 endured more pain on the European clay courts losing to Alexander Zverev and to Andy Murray in the second and third rounds respectively in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
How they got here
The two-time and reigning champion received a bye in the opening round as one of the top eight seeded players in Madrid. However, Djokovic was dealt with a tough assignment as he took on three-time French Open quarterfinalist and former top ten player Nicolas Almagro in the second round. The Serb was broken in the opening game but reeled off six consecutive games to resume normality and took the opening set. However, despite having chances at 4-4 in the second set to break Almagro and serve for the match, Djokovic failed to do so and was broken in the tenth game for Almagro to level the match. It was a test which the defending champion needed, and he trailed 3-0 down in the final set but Djokovic found his mental strength at the right time and was victorious, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Lopez is a four-time quarterfinalist at the Caja Magica, and he began his 16th consecutive appearance in the Spanish capital against American qualifier Ernesto Escobedo dispatching him in straight sets, and he like Djokovic, endured a long three-set tussle, edging past Gilles Simon, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (3) in 2 hours and 11 minutes.
Djokovic and Lopez have met on nine occasions with the defending Mutua Madrid Open champion having a commanding 8-1 head-to-head record over the Spaniard.
The Serb won seven consecutive matches between the duo starting with a second round victory at the Australian Open in 2007 in straight sets. Djokovic would go on to claim his first major in Melbourne a year later. The 12-time Slam champion won their second encounter in the fourth round of the Miami Open that same year, 6-0, 6-3. They wouldn't meet for another four years on hard courts and it was a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory for Djokovic in Dubai. Their only clay court encounter to date was in Djokovic's hometown of Belgrade, claiming that title, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in 2011. They met in the third round of the Shanghai Masters in 2012, which Djokovic won 6-3, 6-3. Their next meeting was in the quarter-finals of the US Open, the three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist advanced to his fourth Slam quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows, despite pinching a set, Djokovic defeated the veteran in four sets, and went on to win his second US Open title.
Once again they met in the third round in Shanghai in 2015, where Lopez reached the semifinals a year prior. Nevertheless, the second seed won that match 6-2, 6-3. Lopez's first victory over Djokovic came in the quarterfinals in Dubai, however, the 35-year-old won the opening set, 6-3 before Djokovic retired due to an eye infection. Furthermore, they met a few weeks later in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open with the former world number one sailing past Lopez, 6-3, 6-3.
Who reaches the quarterfinals?
Djokovic will need to show the same aggression and determination that he is accustomed to, and his fighting qualities were second to none in his second round encounter with Almagro. The Serb is yet to win a clay court match in straight sets, which is quite alarming as the defending champion usually wins his matches convincingly. However, the Serb always finds a way to win his matches, and in his third round match with Lopez, he will need to serve well as Lopez is a good server and mover on clay courts. The Spaniard may employ a serve and volley tactic against Djokovic as he will not want to be engaging in long drawn out rallies with Djokovic, who outlasts many of his opponents in long exchanges. Moreover, Lopez is an established doubles player, and he won the French Open doubles title with his compatriot, Marc Lopez last year, therefore, he will come towards the net to finish off points but has to be careful as Djokovic can produce passing winners.
This is the second match scheduled on the Manolo Santana court, and the winner of this third round encounter will face 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori or 2013 French Open finalist, and former world number three David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. Don't be surprised if Lopez pinches a set off Djokovic in this encounter but a spirited Djokovic should come through this match in straight sets.
Prediction: Djokovic in straight sets.