Wawrinka the one to beat on clay?

Madrid Masters will shed a lot of light on the state of Rafael Nadal

Updated: May 5, 2014, 2:55 PM ET
By Greg Garber |

The tennis world, as we know it, has come to an end.

If No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal doesn't win titles in Madrid, Rome and then Paris, he will suffer three clay-court losses in a single season for the first time in a decade. Meanwhile, No. 2 Novak Djokovic has been nursing a sore right wrist and No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka, after victories in Melbourne and Monte Carlo, is finally The Man.

Heading into back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome, here is the up-or-down skinny on how the top players are trending:


No. 1 Rafael Nadal: The resilient Spaniard makes nine finals in a row at Monte Carlo -- and loses to David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. He wins eight championships in Barcelona in nine years (and an astounding 44 sets in a row) -- and loses to Nicolas Almagro in the quarters. For the first time since 2004, Rafa exits April without a title.


No. 2 Novak Djokovic: He lost only two games in his first two matches at Monte Carlo, but went down quietly to Roger Federer in the semifinals. Then he spent the past few weeks chilling out with that wrist injury. And now Djokovic has announced he won't play in Madrid to heal and prep for the Rome Masters, which starts next week.


No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka: Who saw this coming? The Swiss No. 1 (that is not a misprint) had all of four titles to his credit coming into 2014 -- in such garden spots as Umag, Casablanca, Chennai and Oeiras -- and now he's playing better than anyone. A first major in Australia was followed by his first Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo, where he took out, in order, Marin Cilic, Almagro, Milos Raonic, Ferrer and Federer.


No. 4 Roger Federer: He's won 28 matches, more than any other ATP player, but it's hard to know where his clay season is going. Federer beat a less-than-his-best Djokovic in the semifinals at Monte Carlo, then fell to Wawrinka in the final. Still, with Rafa and Djokovic struggling, Federer might sense an opening.


No. 5 David Ferrer: The indefatigable Spaniard had a great run in Monte Carlo, taking down Nadal, but lost to Wawrinka in the semifinals -- and checked out in Barca in the first round, falling to Teymuraz Gabashvili.


No. 10 John Isner: The former Georgia Bulldog has played all of one clay match since Miami, losing to No. 101-ranked Dustin Brown in Houston. He, like Andy Murray, elected to pass on Monte Carlo. Still, Isner has never lost a first-round match in Madrid.


No. 12 Kei Nishikori: The 24-year-old Japanese player won the first clay title of his career a week ago in Barcelona, taking down Santiago Giraldo in straight sets. It was his second championship of 2014, to go along with his triumph in Memphis.


No. 14 Grigor Dimitrov: The 22-year-old Bulgarian is starting to look like the real deal. He won the title a week ago in Bucharest, ending Lukas Rosol's nine-match winning streak. He also won in Acapulco two months ago. Dimitrov moved up two spots in the rankings to equal a career high.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for


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