Nadal looks to keep momentum at Madrid Masters 
Rafael Nadal of Spain returns a ball to Kei Nishikori of Japan during Barcelona Open tennis tournament in Barcelona - REUTERS
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MADRID: Rafael Nadal arrives at the Madrid Masters with a chance to erase doubts about his form going into Roland Garros.

The former No. 1-ranked player has been playing well again and is coming off two straight titles, and another win at his home Masters, which will feature all the top-ranked players, would help re-establish him as a top contender heading into the French Open in three weeks.

Nadal struggled last year, winning only three tournaments, but he has already won the Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open in 2016.

“I’ve been playing well for a while,” Nadal said at a promotional event this week. “But you need the results to come along with that.”

Nadal’s game will be put to the test this week against a field that includes all players in the top 10, including No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, defending champion Andy Murray and three-time winner Roger Federer.

No. 5-ranked Nadal will be trying to win the Madrid Masters for the third time in the last four years. He lost last year’s final to Murray in one of his many disappointments of the season.

“Every player goes through periods where they don’t necessarily play as well as they have done previously,” Murray said. “Rafa is still one of the best players on the surface and he still works as hard as he can on and off the court. I am sure he has gone away and worked at things since last year, so it’s hard to say if he’ll ever be back up to where he was, I guess we will have to wait and see.”

Murray and Nadal practiced together this week at the Spaniard’s tennis academy in his home city of Manacor.

Murray’s win in Madrid last year gave him his first ever Masters title on clay.

“My preparation last year was probably the best it’s ever been for the clay,” said the No. 2-ranked Murray. “I prepared for the event more thoroughly than I had done in previous years. When you have done everything you can do to ensure that you’re ready for the surface, it gives you confidence.”

Federer, the winner in 2012, was a late addition to the field in Madrid this year. The tournament was not originally on his schedule, but the No. 3-ranked Swiss decided to include it as part of his preparations for Roland Garros. Federer lost to Nick Kyrgios in three sets in last year’s second round in Madrid. It is Federer’s second clay-court tournament of the season, and first since losing to Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters last month.

Federer and Nadal are set to meet in the quarterfinals in Madrid if they both advance through the draw.

Top-ranked Djokovic, who won his lone Madrid title in 2011, will be trying to win his third Masters of the year, following victories in Indian Wells and Miami. It will be his first clay tournament since being upset by 55th-ranked Jiri Vesely in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters. Djokovic hadn’t lost in the second round in three years.

He will debut against either clay-court specialist Nicolas Almagro — a finalist at the Estoril Open this weekend — or 19-year-old Croatian Borna Coric, the youngest player in the top 40. Coric is known as the “mini-Djokovic” for having a similar playing style as the top-ranked player.

Nadal is coming off a busy week off the court. He was named flag-bearer for Spain at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and announced he was lodging a defamation suit against former French minister Roselyne Bachelot, who accused him of doping. He also wrote a letter to the International Tennis Federation requesting that all his anti-doping results and blood profile records be made public, and that results are released whenever players are tested.

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