Main-draw pairings were announced on Saturday in Madrid, and the storylines abound: How will Federer do in his second tournament back? Can Nadal continue his title run on clay? How will Djokovic bounce back from Monte-Carlo? And how will Andy Murray, the Madrid defending champion, fare?
All of the Big Four, though, could have their hands full in the early stages of the fourth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 of the season. Djokovic, who will be playing for the first time since losing in the second round at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, receives a first-round bye but could face #NextGen star Borna Coric or Spaniard Nicolas Almagro in the second round. Coric, No. 40 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, reached the Grand Prix Hassan II final on clay and fell in the quarter-finals on Friday at the Millennium Estoril Open. Almagro, former World No. 9, was the runner-up on clay in Buenos Aires and plays Nick Kyrgios on Saturday to advance to the final in Estoril.
The first seeded player Djokovic could face is No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut, who reached the third round in Monte-Carlo before falling to Federer. In the quarter-finals, a potential match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could await Djokovic. Tsonga, the No. 7 seed, could have to get past No. 11 seed Milos Raonic, though, before meeting Djokovic.
If the Serb and the Frenchman play, it would be their 22nd meeting. Djokovic leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 15-6, which includes a 2014 win at Roland Garros, the last time they played on clay. In the semi-finals, Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, the No. 4 seed, could meet for the 24th time, with Djokovic leading their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 19-4. Wawrinka won their most recent meeting on clay at last year's Roland Garros final.
In the bottom half of the draw, Nadal, the No. 5 seed, will try to keep his 10-match win streak alive against Serb Viktor Troicki or Russian Andrey Kuznetsov in the second round. (Nadal receives a first-round bye.) In the third round, the four-time Madrid champion could face No. 12 seed David Goffin of Belgium. The 25 year old, who's reached a career-high Emirates ATP Ranking of No. 13, made the semi-finals at two Masters 1000 events, Indian Wells and Miami, but has yet to replicate that success on clay. Goffin lost in the third round in Monte-Carlo to Spaniard Marcel Granollers and fell on Friday to #NextGen star Alexander Zverev at the BMW Open by FWU AG.
Should Nadal, who's going for his third consecutive clay-court title, meet Federer, the No. 3 seed, in the quarter-finals, it'd mark the 35th meeting in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry. Nadal holds a 23-11 edge, including a straight-set win the last time they played on clay (Rome 2013).
But Federer hardly has early walkovers. After a first-round bye, the Swiss could meet Portugal's Joao Sousa or France's Nicolas Mahut. In the third round, the three-time Madrid champ could meet No. 14 seed Dominic Thiem, who's already won a clay-court title this year (Buenos Aires) and advanced to the Munich final on Saturday to improve to 13-2 on the red dirt this year. Thiem faces Juan Martin del Potro in the first round.
Murray, who beat Nadal last year to win his first Masters 1000 title on clay in Madrid, could face Canada's Vasek Pospisil in the second round. If the seeds play out, Murray will then meet No. 16 seed Gilles Simon. In the quarter-finals, Murray, who's going for his first title of 2016, could meet No. 8 seed Tomas Berdych. Murray, No. 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, and Berdych have played 13 times, with Murray leading their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 7-6. The last time they played on clay, however, Berdych won in straight sets (Madrid 2013).