The die has been cast in the Caja Mágica. The 96 contenders for the Mutua Madrid Open crown discovered their destinies on Sunday and they now have a clear idea of the paths they will have to take if they are to triumph at the season’s second ATP Masters 1000 on clay. The Spanish capital offers one of the most coveted trophies of the year, but it is a prize only the best players on tour have ever managed to get their hands on.
Defending champion Carlos Alcaraz faces a huge challenge as he attempts to defend his throne in front of the Spanish fans. The Murcia native, who is riding the crest of a wave after a successful title defence at the ATP 500 in Barcelona, will be bidding to prolong a spell of sporting brilliance on his home clay. His campaign in the Caja Mágica will start against Finnish player Emil Ruusuvuori or Frenchman Ugo Humbert.
In a section of the draw that is packed with quality, ex-world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov potentially faces a third-round clash against the Spaniard, who may have to endure a tough run of matches. Two-time champion Alexander Zverev could cross paths with him in the last sixteen, while fifth seed Andrey Rublev, the recent champion of the Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo may await in the quarters.
Casper Ruud’s prowess on clay could also be put to the test in Madrid. Last year’s French Open runner-up, who will open against a qualifier, faces a bracket packed with home-grown talent. Players such as Pablo Carreño Busta, Alejandro Davidovich, Albert Ramos and Martín Landaluce, who will be making his dream debut against Richard Gasquet, are some of the biggest names that could stand in his way. Danish player Holger Rune, who claimed the title this week in Munich, may meet him in the quarter-finals.
Fireworks are guaranteed from the get-go in the bottom half of the draw. Second seed Daniil Medvedev could open his campaign against two-time champion Andy Murray in one of the most enticing encounters in the Spanish capital. In the only bracket with no home players, US player Taylor Fritz may provide the biggest stumbling block en route to the later rounds. The eighth seed is sure to be a tough man to beat in a bracket that also includes players such as Denis Shapovalov, Cameron Norrie and Alex de Miñaur.
Third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas will be looking to bounce back from the final in Barcelona with a big performance in the Caja Mágica. The Greek could find himself in another electric match with ex-finalist Dominic Thiem in the second round of the tournament. It will be a thrilling opening to the competition in a bracket where the biggest contender for a place in the quarters looks to be Felix Auger-Aliassime. It is an area of the draw that also includes hopefuls such as Frances Tiafoe, who recently picked up his first ATP Tour trophy on the clay of Houston, and his compatriot Ben Shelton, one of the young guns making their debut in the Caja Mágica.