A year later, both men still sit atop the Emirates ATP Rankings, and this year, just like last, the Scot and the Serbian are among the favourites to win the season’s second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament on clay.
But in other ways, much is different for the World No. 1 and No. 2, as both players head to this week’s Mutua Madrid Open seeking similar reboots to their 2017 campaigns if they plan to keep their comfortable advantages atop the Emirates ATP Rankings.
Djokovic, the 2016 Madrid champion, will be defending 1,000 Emirates ATP Rankings points, and Murray, last year’s finalist, could see 600 Emirates ATP Rankings points roll off.
Both players also will be looking to regain their sky-high confidence levels that have seemingly been missing thus far in 2017. Djokovic started the year by beating Murray in Doha for his 67th career title but has struggled since, failing to reach a semi-final in his four other tournaments. Murray backed up his Doha final run with a title in Dubai but hasn’t reached another final since that February crown.
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But Madrid might be just the spot for their restarts to take place. Last year, Murray battled Djokovic for three sets in the Madrid final before avenging his loss to the Serb one week later in the Rome final. Djokovic then had the final say on clay, beating Murray in the Roland Garros final.
“I think the week as a whole and the clay season so far has been positive for me. I just need to try to find the way for whole weeks and not drop my intensity at certain moments,” Murray said after the Madrid final.
In 2016, Djokovic had his greatest year on the red dirt, and that run started in Madrid, where he won his 29th Masters 1000 crown and his 64th tour-level title, tying Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras on the all-time titles list. From there, Djokovic made the final in Rome and completed his career Grand Slam with his first Roland Garros title.
Should Djokovic and Murray slip in Madrid, look to the “King of Clay” to continue making up ground in the Emirates ATP Rankings. World No. 5 Rafael Nadal has been his usual stellar self on the red dirt so far this year. The left-hander won his 10th Monte-Carlo and Barcelona titles last month. He has won the Madrid title four times, best among the “Big Four” of Murray, Djokovic, Roger Federer and himself.
The Spaniard has thousands of points to gain during the next five weeks as well, after his injury-shortened clay-court stretch last season. In 2016, Nadal reached the semi-finals in Madrid, the quarter-finals in Rome and withdrew before his third-round match in Roland Garros because of a left-wrist injury.