2017 Mutua Madrid Open men's preview: Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are the top two seeds

The fourth Masters 1000 event of 2017 takes place at the Mutua Madrid Open, and it is the second of three European Masters 1000 clay court events, as the top ATP World Tour players continue their preparations for the French Open.

2017 Mutua Madrid Open men's preview: Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are the top two seeds
Djokovic returns to the Mutua Madrid Open as the defending champion (Photo left Manolo Santana stadium, Credit: Mutua Madrid Open / Djokovic, Credit: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Defending Mutua Madrid Open champion Novak Djokovic is the second seed at the second Masters 1000 European clay court event, and it will be interesting to see how the former world number one performs. The Serb announced yesterday that he has parted ways with his entire coaching team as he looks for a new team to help him a new direction, and most importantly, return to his dominant form, which was evident during the first half of the ATP World Tour season in 2016, and the second half of his season in 2016 was poor which seen him ultimately lose his world number one ranking to two-time champion Andy Murray. Djokovic's struggles have continued into 2017 which has been surprising for many to witness.

Three-time Mutua Madrid Open champion Roger Federer was the dominant player of the hard court events by sweeping up the Australian Open, BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open titles for the third time in his career. The 2009 French Open champion is the notable absentee from this event, as he has also opted to sit out of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, in order to rest for the French Open and his main priority is the grass court season as he chases an unprecedented eighth Wimbledon crown. 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori also returns to competitive tennis as 19 out of the top 20 players compete in a strong field at the Caja Magica.

World number five Rafael Nadal has reached a tour-high of five finals winning the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters and Barcelona Open titles both on ten occasions as he chases his fifth title in the Spanish capital along with Murray and Djokovic who are looking to reach top form, as they dominated the clay court season between them last year.

Quarters preview:

First Quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Murray (1) vs Thiem (8)

World number one Andy Murray has struggled to live up to expectations in 2017, however, The Brit has been suffering from an elbow injury as he aims to return his top form. Murray suffered a shocking defeat to eventual finalist Albert Ramos Vinolas in the third round in Monte Carlo but he took a wildcard at the 500-level event in Barcelona losing to Dominic Thiem in three sets in the semifinals. Matches are certainly what the world number one needs to find his match rhythm. The top seed receives a bye in the first round, and he begins his campaign against a wildcard, either Spain's Guillermo Garcia Lopez or Romanian Marius Copil. A tricky third round encounter with 13th seed Lucas Pouille could be on the cards if Pouille gets past countryman Richard Gasquet or Mischa Zverev in the second round. The elder Zverev brother upset Murray in the fourth round of the Australian Open, and it could be a chance for Murray to get his revenge.

This quarter of the draw is filled with quality players as eighth seed Dominic Thiem begins his campaign in the second round against a qualifier or Belgium's Steve Darcis, a nice way to get the clay-courter into this tournament. However, a projected third-round meeting with 12th seed Grigor Dimitrov could be a thriller. The Bulgarian has a nightmare section as he has a first round match with Philipp Kohlschreiber, who's comfortable on this surface, and a second round meeting with Ivo Karlovic or Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut are more than capable of upsetting him. Dimitrov comes into this tournament with some confidence as he won the exhibition Tie Break Tens title on Thursday with a $250,000 cheque.

It is a tricky section of the draw but this is a good opportunity for Murray to go on a long overdue deep run at a big tournament, which he has failed to do in 2017, as he has not reached the quarterfinals of a Slam or Masters 1000. The world number one will be looking to put that right, and put himself in the semifinals as he chases a third title in Madrid.

Semifinalist 1: Murray def. Thiem

Murray won his first Masters 1000 clay court title at the Mutua Madrid Open in 2015 (Photo by Julian Finney / Getty Images)
Murray won his first Masters 1000 clay court title at the Mutua Madrid Open in 2015 (Photo by Julian Finney / Getty Images)

Second Quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Wawrinka (3) v Cilic (7)

Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka has had a good start to 2017 as the third seed, reached the semifinals of the Australian Open and final at the BNP Paribas Open losing to compatriot Roger Federer. However, the world number three has historically struggled at the Mutua Madrid Open with his appearance in the final in 2013 being his best run. In fact, Wawrinka's final appearance in 2013 was the only time he has advanced beyond the quarterfinals in the Spanish capital. Another early exit at the Caja Magica beckons for the 2015 French Open winner as he begins his campaign against his good friend Benoit Paire or a red-hot Pablo Carreno Busta, who is currently in the semifinals in Estoril. Wawrinka's projected third round opponent is 14th seed, Jack Sock. The American has his hands full in the first round with France's Nicolas Mahut but should Pablo Cuevas defeat a qualifier in the first round, Sock could be set for an early second round exit. Wawrinka lost to Cuevas in the third round in Monte Carlo, and they could meet in the same round in Madrid.

Seventh seed Marin Cilic had a golden opportunity to advance to his first Masters 1000 final on clay courts in Monte Carlo as he was the only player in this section of the draw to win a Masters 1000 title. However, Ramos Vinolas defeated him in the quarterfinals in three sets, which would have been a disappointing result for the Croat but the Spaniard was playing too good. The 2014 US Open champion's draw is a nightmare as he starts his campaign against Alexander Zverev, currently in the semifinals in Munich or Fernando Verdasco. However, a projected third-round meeting with 11th seed Tomas Berdych could occur. Berdych was a finalist in 2012 on the blue clay in Madrid losing to Federer in three sets, he begins his tournament against a qualifier, and he should defeat Robin Haase or Dan Evans in the second round. It's a tough section of the draw with plenty of key matches but Wawrinka will be hoping that his fortunes turn around and go on a quest for his second Masters 1000 title.

Semifinalist 2: Wawrinka def. Cilic

The 2013 finalist has a tough draw but has the quality to get through it (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)
The 2013 finalist has a tough draw but has the quality to get through it (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Third Quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Raonic (5) v Nadal (4)

Rafael Nadal has certainly been one of the top two players in 2017 along with his eternal rival Roger Federer. There has been a lot of anticipation surrounding Nadal on his favourite clay court surface, and the former world number one is the favourite to clinch a tenth French Open title. Nadal has only won the title in Madrid on four occasions. The Spaniard has a tricky second round match with Fabio Fognini and Joao Sousa, who are not strangers on a clay court. Nadal defeated Sousa in the quarterfinals last year, and it is hard to see either Fognini or Sousa beating Nadal on his current form. A mouthwatering third round encounter with 16th seed Nick Kyrgios is on the cards. Kyrgios was due to compete in Estoril but he returned home to be at his grandfather's funeral. He kickstarts his Madrid campaign against Marcos Baghdatis, and a second-round meeting with compatriot Bernard Tomic could be an exciting one.

Fifth seed Milos Raonic has recovered from his hamstring injury that forced him to withdraw from his third round match in Miami and ruled him out of the Monte Carlo Masters. The Canadian has returned to action in Istanbul, and he is currently in the semifinals in the Turkish city. He receives a bye in the opening round, and Gilles Muller or Tommy Haas will be waiting in his first match. However, Raonic will most likely fall in the third round to ninth seed David Goffin. The Belgian advanced to the semifinals in Monte Carlo defeating Novak Djokovic in an unbelievable display of tennis, unfortunately, he was not able to defeat Nadal in the semifinals. Goffin begins his Madrid campaign against young Russian, Karen Khachanov, followed by a second round meeting with Marcel Granollers or Florian Mayer. Based on current form, you should expect to see a Goffin-Nadal quarterfinal at the Caja Magica but Raonic and Kyrgios will both have something to say about that.

Semifinalist 3: Nadal def. Goffin

The Spaniard won his tenth title in Barcelona last week (Photo by Alex Caparros / Getty Images)
The Spaniard won his tenth title in Barcelona last week (Photo by Alex Caparros / Getty Images)

Fourth Quarter

Projected quarterfinal: Nishikori (6) vs Djokovic (2)

This bottom section of the draw is arguably the strongest in the men's singles draw. Djokovic, the defending champion has been far from his vintage dominating form, that we are accustomed to. However, in the Spanish capital, he will be looking to set the record straight. Djokovic begins his title defence against a Spanish wildcard in Nicolas Almagro or Tommy Robredo. Both Spaniards are clay court specialists but are coming towards the end of their careers, and Djokovic should expect a difficult first set but should cruise past either of them in the second set. The second seed has a projected third round meeting with 15th seed Gael Monfils. Monfils reached the fourth round of the Australian Open losing to Nadal, however, the Frenchman had a good 2016 season portraying a new attitude which saw him reach the quarterfinals or better in Melbourne and the first three Masters events. Monfils has slipped down the rankings to 16 due to injuries but he should overcome his compatriot Gilles Simon in the first round, who pushed Djokovic to the brink of elimination in Monte Carlo. Monfils should expect a second round meeting with Feliciano Lopez, and the Frenchman should have his name pencilled in the third round for a clash with Djokovic.

Sixth seed Kei Nishikori also returns to action, and the 2014 US Open runner-up has a good record in Madrid. The Japanese star was set to claim his first Masters 1000 title right here in Madrid, three years ago against Nadal but injury intervened and forced him to retire in the final set. Nishikori reached the quarterfinals in Madrid in 2013, the final in 2014 and has reached back-to-back semifinals in the last two editions losing to Murray and Djokovic respectively, who went on to win the titles in those years. Nishikori has a bye in the first round but has a tricky second round encounter with Monte Carlo finalist Albert Ramos Vinolas or Diego Schwartzman, who is currently defending his title in Istanbul in the semifinals. 10th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is Nishikori's projected third round opponent, and the charismatic Frenchman returns to competitive tennis, following the birth of his first child. Tsonga's record in Madrid isn't the best either as his only quarterfinal appearance was in 2013. The former Australian Open runner-up begins his tournament against a qualifier, and a mouthwatering second round encounter with David Ferrer would excite the crowd.

It is a tough section of the draw but Djokovic has a good record against Monfils, Nishikori, Tsonga and Ferrer, and it is a good chance for Djokovic to go on a deep run in Madrid and ensure that he will be one of the favourites to clinch a second title at the French Open.

Semifinalist 4: Djokovic def. Nishikori

The Serb will be chasing his third title in the Spanish capital (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)
The Serb will be chasing his third title in the Spanish capital (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Semifinals and Final prediction:

Andy Murray def. Stan Wawrinka

Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic

Final: Nadal def. Murray

Tennis