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ATP Clay court battles continue at Mutua Madrid Open

Damien Kayat takes a look at two of this week’s round of 32 matches from the Mutua Madrid Open.

Mutua Madrid Open - Dieogo Schwartzman
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

The Mutua Madrid Open continues this week as we hit the Round of 32 phase.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Tuesday 4 May

Llyod Harris 37/20 | Alex De Minaur 41/100

This should be a fascinating encounter between two young players not especially renowned for their clay-court prowess. Both of them actually picked up impressive opening round victories here. Alex De Minaur overcame the Spaniard Jamie Munar from a set down. It was a much-needed victory for the 22-year-old Aussie. Though he won his 4th title at the season-opening Antalya Open, this has been a poor year for the Aussie. His progress was certainly curtailed by last year’s lockdown (this is a man who won three ATP titles in 2019). He had only won two of his last seven matches entering this event. He used his brilliant court coverage to defend superbly against clay-court specialist Munar. De Minaur will need to be sharp against this week’s early upset specialist: Llyod Harris.

Harris was absolutely brilliant in overcoming Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round. One lingering concern will be the extent of his back injury: he was forced to take a medical timeout at the end of the 2nd set. Harris has certainly been in more consistent form than his opponent this year. He reached his first ATP Final in Dubai, going down to Russian Aslan Karatsev in the final. Much like De Minaur, Harris is really built for harder surfaces. He uses his big serve and forehand to pulverize players. De Minaur probably has the edge in court-craft due to his movement. But Harris is hardly a slouch himself. De Minaur will try to create interesting angles while Harris will be content with hitting through the line. His forehand is powerful enough to take advantage of any short balls. De Minaur does tend to hit the ball quite flat so you can expect Harris to have ample opportunities to attack on the clay.

Verdict: Lloyd Harris 37/20

This will be the 2nd meeting between these two, with Harris winning their 2019 encounter in Tokyo. I think that Harris will feel emboldened by his victory against Dimitrov. De Minaur may have a stronger pedigree but his recent form has been dodgy. I’m opting for the South African here.

Wednesday 5 May

Diego Schwartzman12/10 | Aslan Karatsev 13/20

This match is one of those classical style clashes that always proves more fascinating on clay. The diminutive Diego Schwartzman has punched well above his weight for the last few years (mostly due to his brilliant clay-court form). Three of his four career ATP titles have come on clay. But just look at his clay-court form over the past year. He reached his first-ever ATP Masters 1000 Final at Rome last year. He then produced his finest Grand Slam performance to date with a run to the semi-finals in Paris. That performance (coupled with all the Covid-withdrawals) helped to propel him into the ATP Finals for the first time. This year he won his 4th ATP title by claiming victory on home soil in the Argentina Open. He looked decent in Barcelona last time out, eventually being ousted after a topsy-turvy quarterfinal with Pablo Carreno Busta. Clearly, these slower surfaces allow the Argentine to show off his extraordinary athleticism. But will that be enough against the huge-hitting Russian Aslan Karatsev?

The Cinderella story of men’s tennis continues. Aslan Karatsev’s career looked destined for relative ignominy just six months back. The 27-year-old struggled to break through on tour for years, travelling around Europe in search of better coaching opportunities. But what a year it has been for Karatsev. At Melbourne, he became the first man in the Open era to reach a Grand Slam semi-final on debut. But the insanity doesn’t end there. This fairy-tale story has actually endured. He went on to capture his first title at the Dubai Open. But it was perhaps his performance in Belgrade last week that has left the greatest impression. Sure, he ultimately went down in the final. But he beat hometown icon and World Number One Novak Djokovic in the process. What it also displayed was his growing comfort on clay surfaces. Karatsev is not just a mindless hitter. His game is constantly evolving, as evidenced by his comfortable opening-round win against French sensation Ugo Humbert.

Verdict: Aslan Karatsev 13/20

This will be their 2nd meeting on tour. The first resulted in an emphatic straight-sets victory for Karatsev. That result was expected on the hard-courts in Melbourne. The conventional wisdom suggests that the Argentine will be far more competitive here. However, I’m firmly on the side of the Russian here. He is in the type of hitting form that transcends courts. Furthermore, the Argentine has proved erratic this season outside of that hometown win.

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