Master of his destiny
It's a huge week at the Madrid Masters for Roger Federer ahead of the French Open, says Barry Cowan.
Last Updated: 19/05/10 4:18pm
Novak Djokovic will be a noticeable absentee when the Madrid Masters gets into full swing this week.
The 22-year-old says there isn't a simple solution to the allergy problem that forced him to pull out of this week's Serbia Open in Belgrade and so long as his breathing problems continue there will be a question mark over his ability to challenge the best.
This isn't the first time he's had such an issue - it seems to affect him every now and again, he has also been affected with other health issues as was the case last year when he pulled out of the Australian Open against Andy Roddick with heat exhaustion.
He has received some criticism in the past for ducking out of various matches but I think it's now clear that this is a real problem for him.
If a reliable remedy can't be found then presumably it is something he may well have to live with for the rest of his time as a pro player.
Djokovic's absence means that should Nadal win in Madrid (a victory that would make him the first player to win all three Masters 1000 clay court tournaments in the same season) he will climb up to second in the world rankings behind Roger Federer.
If those positions stayed the same ahead of the French Open then Nadal and Federer could not meet until the final but, in all honesty, I don't think such things affect either player.
Nadal knows that if he's fit and plays his best tennis he will win the French - no matter who he is up against and Federer, defending Champion in Madrid, will take the view that he's won the title before and will presumably have to play Nadal at some point to do so again.
If the potential change in rankings affects anyone, it is Andy Murray and Djokovic himself because ideally they'd both like Nadal and Federer to be in one half of the draw with them in the other.
Given how Nadal played en route to victory in Monte Carlo and Rome, I can't see anyone beating him in Madrid this week or the French, for that matter.
The confidence is clearly back now and he is justifiably the overwhelming favourite. What's more he will have benefitted from having a break and not playing in Barcelona.
In contrast Federer played Estoril - a tournament he should have been more than capable of winning, given that the standard of the field was average.
He insists he is unconcerned by his form, though, and that's because he's aiming to peak at the Grand Slams. By definition that means you have to go through certain periods where you are doing a heavy block of training and don't necessarily get the results expected of you.
Federer won't be happy losing to Albert Montanes but he'll know that even as great as he was four or five years ago he did often struggle but came through when it mattered. These days the overall standard of the men's game has improved and there are more tougher matches.
I actually think this is a massive week for Federer because he has to put a dent in the Spaniard's confidence ahead of the French otherwise if the two meet at Roland Garros I can only see one winner.
Barry answers your questions...
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KING OF QUEEN'S
Hi Barry, enjoy the column. There were some nice pictures in the paper this week of Andy Murray at Queen's. Is he trying to tell us the grass court season can't come quickly enough? Cheers, Adam, Putney
BARRY REPLIES: Hi Adam, while it's good news Andy that is going to defend his Aegon Championship title I'm sure his focus is still fully on the clay. If it wasn't that would certainly be a massive negative, not least because no player can afford to write off a Grand Slam. If he did give up on this part of the year he'd only go into the grass-court season with a lack of confidence. It's much better that he continues to apply himself as he is doing. His form showed a slight improvement against David Ferrer in Rome but he's still well off the level that he was at the start of the year. He simply needs more matches to build confidence and get back into that winning mind-set.