Rafa Nadal tipped to win Madrid Open as Andy Murray returns to action
Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic are a class apart on clay, says Barry Cowan ahead of the Madrid Open.
Last Updated: 10/05/13 6:15pm
I was surprised by how poor he was in his 6-1, 6-2 third-round loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in Monaco last month but he's not in a crisis, it was just a bad day at the office.
We've become so spoilt with the likes of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer never having an off day that when Murray does everyone says 'how can he do that?' But if you wind the clock back 15 years Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi would have bad days. It happens.
It is always going to take him a little longer to adjust to playing on clay than the likes of Djokovic and Federer, as well. He just needs to put that match behind him, work hard in practice - which I'm sure he has - and try to hit the ground running this week.
I still believe Murray will have a good clay court season and, even if he loses early this week, he can still have a good French Open. However, the stats show he's only beaten one top 10 player on this surface - Nikolay Davydenko - and he needs a good performance at either Madrid or Rome to be considered among the favourites at Roland Garros.
Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, though, are clearly the two best clay court players in the world at the moment.
Nadal's comeback has surprised everyone by how great it has been. His fighting spirit was never in doubt but, since his return, he's played six events, won four and lost in a great final to Djokovic at Monte Carlo. He's my number one pick for the French Open, ahead of Novak.
He may not admit it, but he'll be delighted to be on the other side of the draw to the Serbian world number one - and it's exactly what we, as spectators, want to see as well. It would be a huge match if Nadal and Djokovic met in the final.
It's down to Murray, Federer and the others to try to prevent that happening, but if I was predicting the outcome this week I'd have to play with a straight bat and go for Nadal to add to his 2005 and 2010 Madrid titles.
Outside of the top four, it is hard to imagine anyone else springing a surprise and making the final.
Tomas Berdych could potentially have a great week - but I say that most weeks and he still hasn't added to his Paris Masters title he won in 2005, while Grigor Dimitrov, who was slightly disappointing in Barcelona, having played so well in Monte Carlo, meets Djokovic in the second round, which could be interesting.
Then there's Wawrinka, who's had had such a positive year. He's playing his best tennis, beat David Ferrer in the final of the Portugal Open on Sunday and claiming that big win is important for him.
The way he hits the ball has never been in question but can he win matches when he's not necessarily playing his best? Can he build on that title? He's the one player outside of the top four that could worry them this week - even more than Ferrer.
A number of players gathered ahead of the Madrid Open to pay their respects to former ATP chairman Brad Drewett on Sunday with a minute's silence.
The Australian died aged 54, after battling motor neurone disease.
He brought real energy and passion to the role and fought for the players right until the end. All the tributes you see from the players show how much they respected him - and how much he cared for them.
Our thoughts and sympathies go out to his wife and four children.