Five Early-Round Madrid Blockbusters Fans Are Looking To

At ATP Masters 1000 level, no win is taken for granted. But Friday’s release of the Mutua Madrid Open draw has thrown up some potential mouth watering early-round showdowns that have grabbed the attention of tennis fans.

Ahead of the start of play Sunday, ATPTour.com looks at one guaranteed first-round match and four possible second-round blockbusters.

[7] Diego Schwartzman vs. Aslan Karatsev
If Karatsev can first get past Ugo Humbert, he’ll get to face Schwartzman for the second time in three months. The Russian, who is fresh from an upset of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Belgrade, took out Schwartzman in the third round of the Australian Open in straight sets during a memorable breakthrough run to the semi-finals. Both Karatsev and Schwartzman have won a title this year (the Russian in Dubai and the Argentine in Buenos Aires). World No. 9 Schwartzman will have points to defend after having a stellar 2020 clay season when he reached the final in Rome, complete with a quarter-final win over Rafael Nadal, and the semi-finals of Roland Garros

[8] Matteo Berrettini vs. Fabio Fognini
Fognini will take on a qualifier in the first round and awaiting him if he prevails will be his compatriot Berrettini. The level of play and intensity will be high with both Italians inside of the Top 20 of the Fedex ATP Race to Turin. They’ll be eager to pick up points in Madrid and appear on court at home in Turin when the Italian city hosts the Nitto ATP Finals in November. Berrettini, with a Fedex ATP Ranking of No. 10, just won the ATP 250 in Belgrade (d Karatsev).

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[15] Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Casper Ruud
#NextGenATP star Auger-Aliassime is the higher ranked player in this first-round bout but Ruud has been playing the best tennis of his career in recent weeks. The 22-year-old Norwegian just reached the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo with wins over Schwartzman, Pablo Carreno Busta and Fognini. Auger-Aliassime will be looking to have a deep run with new coach Toni Nadal in his corner. In his most recent event in Barcelona, the Canadian picked up wins over Lorenzo Musetti and Denis Shapovalov to reach the quarter-finals.

[2] Daniil Medvedev vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Assuming Davidovich Fokina wins his first round against a qualifier, he’ll be up for a big challenge against Medvedev. Davidovich Fokina is continuing his upward trajectory in the rankings, cracking the Top 50 for the first time this week. He’s into the semi-finals in Estoril and will have four clay tournaments under his belt while Medvedev hasn’t played since Miami. The 25-year-old missed Monte-Carlo after testing positive for COVID-19 and will be eager to get back on court. The next few weeks will prove crucial for the Russian: He has very few points to defend and could turn up the heat on Djokovic for the prized World No. 1 mantle. 

[1] Rafael Nadal vs. Carlos Alcaraz
Alcaraz first has a big task against Adrian Mannarino but if he were to win, awaiting him in the second round is five-time Madrid champion Nadal. It’s huge incentive for the 17-year-old Spaniard as he would be facing the World No. 2 for the first time. Nadal will be well-rested after taking a week off following his 12th Barcelona title triumph.

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Fashion Photographer Captures Miami Moments With Tsitsipas, Rublev & More

Los Angeles-based Czech fashion photographer Radka Leitmeritz turned her lens to the tennis courts throughout the Miami Open presented by Itau for a series of behind-the-scenes portraits featuring ATP Tour and WTA Tour players. 

Leitmeritz’s evocative work has previously featured in the pages and covers of international fashion magazines including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel and Elle. Now, ATP Tour stars like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Grigor Dimitrov, Andrey Rublev and Diego Schwartzman (pictured above) have been her muses in South Florida.

“I think the misconception coming from the fashion world is that everyone I photograph is going to look like a top model,” Leitmeritz said of working with tennis players. “Everyone is beautiful and I like to capture something really personal about them in a different environment.

“I’m free from the history or knowing too much about them. This is a privileged situation. Shooting a person who is very famous that you don’t know is the best. I just see them, I feel a certain energy.”

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Her keen lens caught players like Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov on their way to the practice court, and also captured quiet moments with Daniil Medvedev, Tommy Paul, Aslan Karatsev and more around the Hard Rock Stadium grounds.

Leitmeritz also photographed WTA Tour stars including Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu and Coco Gauff. See more images at WTATennis.com.

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Schwartzman: ‘I Think I’m Basically Still The Same’

Diego Schwartzman has just enjoyed his best season on the ATP Tour. During his 2020 campaign, he recorded a win over Rafael Nadal, reached the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final and the Roland Garros semi-finals, broke into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings and qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals… all of which he achieved for the first time in his career. But the Argentine is not one to rest on his laurels and so he now has some new goals.

“I broke through a barrier [beating Nadal]. Now I can retire saying that I beat him,” said Schwartzman, current World No. 9, in an extensive interview with Argentina’s La Nacion Magazine. “Now my outstanding goals are to beat Roger [Federer] once, ‘Nole’ once and then to win more titles.”

While coveting victory over the members of the Big 3, he does not hide his admiration for them. “I would take all of their shots. They make up the ideal player. I have had some very good years, 2020 was the best and you ask yourself, ‘How is it possible that these guys have been having seasons thousands of times better than mine since they were 18 and they repeat it every year?’”

Inspired by the consistency of the Big 3, ‘El Peque’ will be bidding in 2021 to maintain the standard of his last season. But just as important to him as fighting to improve is keeping his feet on the ground. “[In tennis], more than selfishness, there’s solitude,” Schwartzman explained. “I have changed my personality a little through being alone. But I think basically I’m still the same. If I ever change, I hope the people around me tell me so.”

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Remembering his roots and being mindful of the sacrifices he has made have helped the Argentine to remain the same. His path to the top of the ATP Tour, overcoming countless obstacles as well as the economic struggles of his family, also provided a talking point, both with ‘El Peque’ and with his father Ricardo, who remembered the day when he had to sell a Ford Taunus 2.3 to pay for Diego’s trip to a youth tournament in Cordoba.

“As a boy I never realised how little my family had,” Diego remembered. “It would have affected me much more or maybe I even would have stopped playing. Being more aware, I would have thought ‘What is all this they’re doing for me? Are they crazy?’”

Schwartzman spoke about his past, but also his future. He even touched upon his dreams once he retires from the game. “I’d like to be involved in politics to help make sport more federal in Argentina and for the provinces to have better representation.” He also admitted his greatest fears. The 28-year-old right-hander used to be scared of spiders and the dark, but now he is scared of death. He also revealed that he still cries today over the passing of football legend, friend and mentor Diego Maradona, whom he was named after.

“When I finished a big match or, above all, a bad one, I would receive an audio message from him. He sent me a lot in the finals I lost. He would say, ‘Penalties are missed by the person who takes them. Finals are lost by those that have the courage to get there and play them.’ When I lost to Nadal at Roland Garros in 2018, he said, ‘Copy everything you can from the best, but never imitate them. Everyone is unique’. He was unique.”

It seems that Diego, increasingly standing out as one of the most genuine players on Tour, has followed the advice of one of his idols to the letter.

Season Portrait: Diego Schwartzman

Beginning today with Argentine Diego Schwartzman, ATPTour.com over the next eight days will serve up a season snapshot of the eight players who qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals. The series is illustrated by intimate portraits shot by British photographer Simon Owen.

Memorable Moment
Diego Schwartzman earned one of the biggest victories of his career in the quarter-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, upsetting Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard had won their first nine ATP Head2Head meetings, winning 22 of their 24 sets. But Schwartzman showed his marked improvement by playing aggressive tennis, overpowering and outmanoeuvring the best clay-court player in history at a venue, the Foro Italico, where the legendary lefty has lifted nine trophies. The 28-year-old won more sets in a day against Nadal than he had in nine previous matches combined.

Key Stat
Schwartzman led the ATP Tour in return games won in 2020 at 34.9 per cent, just beating out World No. 2 Rafael Nadal (34.4%). The Argentine played 40 matches this year and broke serve 175 times, an average of more than four service breaks per match. His career winning rate in return games is now 31.8 per cent.

Quotable
“I’m really proud because I did many great things in many different weeks this year. But also I have the feeling in my body that I have to improve, because I want to be here [at the Nitto ATP Finals] again.”

The Road Ahead
Schwartzman, the No. 1 player from Argentina, enjoyed a year of firsts in 2020, reaching his first ATP Masters 1000 final (Rome) and Grand Slam semi-final (Roland Garros). Now he will try to not just go further at those levels, but to add more trophies to the collection. The World No. 9 is a three-time ATP Tour champion, with his biggest victory coming in 2018 at the Rio Open presented by Claro, an ATP 500 event held in Brazil. He will also try to improve his hard-court results — Schwartzman has won 53 per cent of his tour-level matches on the surface compared to 57 per cent on clay.

Tomorrow… Andrey Rublev.

Photos: Simon Owen/Wonderhatch

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