Casper Ruud is at a career-high No. 22 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and he has proven a menace for the rest of the Tour on clay. But will the Norwegian have enough to surprise fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday at the Mutua Madrid Open?
Ruud is unseeded at the Caja Magica, but he hasn’t played like it in dismissing Felix Auger-Aliassime and Yoshihito Nishioka. The 22-year-old, who is one of seven players remaining making their tournament debut, is one win from making a third consecutive clay-court ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final. Last year, Ruud made the semi-finals in Rome and just weeks ago he made the last four in Monte-Carlo.
But Tsitsipas will be a tough challenge. The Greek recently claimed his first Masters 1000 title in Monte-Carlo and he earned a championship point in Barcelona against Rafael Nadal before the Spaniard battled back to lift the trophy. Tsitsipas is 10-1 on clay this season and he will try to improve that record against Ruud in their first ATP Head2Head clash (Tsitsipas won a final-set tie-break against Ruud in a Futures final in 2016).
“For sure he’s a clay-court specialist. I haven’t played him in a long time. We played in the juniors together,” Tsitsipas said. “He’s someone who knows the surface really well. Most of his good results have come on clay, so a difficult task early in a Masters 1000, but again I’m going to try and go out on the court, show my game, show what I’m capable of, put out my best power.”
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Tsitsipas is tied for the ATP Tour-lead in wins with Andrey Rublev at 27 each, and the Russian will also try to make the Madrid quarter-finals on Thursday. Rublev will confront a tall task — literally and figuratively — against American John Isner, who is competing on clay for the first time this season.
Isner won their only clash in Miami six years ago when Rublev was 17. The 6’10” righty hit 32 aces on Wednesday en route to a final-set tie-break victory against Roberto Bautista Agut. That marked the most aces hit by anyone on the ATP Tour in a best-of-three match in 2021.
Rublev has made at least the quarter-finals in his eight previous tournaments this year, and he will be confident after reaching his maiden Masters 1000 final in Monte-Carlo.
A day after snuffing out Carlos Alcaraz’s candles on his 18th birthday, Rafael Nadal will attempt to maintain his good form against Aussie Alexei Popyrin, who ousted Jannik Sinner in the second round. This will be their first ATP Head2Head meeting.
“He has a huge serve, great forehand, young… Another tough opponent. But here we are in Masters 1000, so we can’t expect another thing,” Nadal said. “I hope to be ready to play well. That’s what I am going to need every single day if I want to have chances to keep playing. Tomorrow is another tough battle. I hope to be ready.”
Second seed Daniil Medvedev beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina for his first victory in Madrid, and he will try to double his win count at the Caja Magica against 16th seed Cristian Garin. The Chilean’s best career triumph came two years ago in Munich against World No. 3 Alexander Zverev, and beating another World No. 3 in Medvedev would level their series at 1-1.
Zverev will also try to level an ATP Head2Head at 1-1 when he takes on British No. 1 Daniel Evans. The tricky all-court player is at a career-high World No. 26, and he recently made his first Masters 1000 semi-final in Monte-Carlo. The German, however, is confident in Madrid, where he lifted the trophy in 2018.
In other action, third seed Dominic Thiem will try to continue finding his form in his first tournament since Dubai when he plays Aussie Alex de Minaur (Thiem leads 3-0). Red-hot Russian Aslan Karatsev continues his incredible season against tricky Kazakhstani Alexander Bublik, and Matteo Berrettini will attempt to extend his five-match winning streak when he plays Argentine Federico Delbonis.
ORDER OF PLAY – THURSDAY, MAY 06, 2021
MANOLO SANTANA STADIUM start 11:00 am
ATP –  D. Thiem (AUT) vs A. de Minaur (AUS)
Not Before 3:00 pm
ATP –  R. Nadal (ESP) vs [Q] A. Popyrin (AUS)
Not Before 7:00 pm
ATP – D. Evans (GBR) vs  A. Zverev (GER)
ARANTXA SANCHEZ STADIUM start 11:00 am
ATP – A. Karatsev (RUS) vs A. Bublik (KAZ)
ATP –  C. Garin (CHI) vs  D. Medvedev (RUS)
Not Before 2:00 pm
ATP – J. Isner (USA) vs  A. Rublev (RUS)
Not Before 4:00 pm
ATP – C. Ruud (NOR) vs  S. Tsitsipas (GRE)
ATP –  M. Berrettini (ITA) vs [Q] F. Delbonis (ARG)
STADIUM 3 start 1:00 pm
ATP – K. Krawietz (GER) / H. Tecau (ROU) vs  I. Dodig (CRO) / F. Polasek (SVK)
After Suitable Rest – ATP – A. Bublik (KAZ) / C. Garin (CHI) vs S. Gille (BEL) / J. Vliegen (BEL)
COURT 4 start 11:00 am
ATP – M. Purcell (AUS) / L. Saville (AUS) vs  N. Mektic (CRO) / M. Pavic (CRO)
ATP – [Alt] R. Klaasen (RSA) / B. McLachlan (JPN) vs  P. Herbert (FRA) / N. Mahut (FRA)