MADRID ( Associated Press) – Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray prepare for a performance at the Madrid Open on Thursday, with the winner securing a quarter-final spot and taking another step towards recovery.
Djokovic and Murray are far down the rankings, but both are going through similar phases, trying to regain their best form after a poor start to the season.
Top-ranked Djokovic is playing in only his fourth tournament after being denied permission to participate in the Australian Open due to his vaccination status. Trying to return to the top, No. 78 Murray is looking to win three matches in a row for the first time since January.
They haven’t faced each other since Djokovic won the 2017 Doha final.
“We’ve had some great fights over the years at some of the biggest tournaments in the world,” Murray said. “We played in the final, I think all four Grand Slams, we’ve played here in the final, and I haven’t had a chance to play against him for a long time.”
Djokovic defeated Murray in three sets in the 2016 Madrid final. The Serb has faced 25 victories and 11 losses against Britain.
“Theoretically I shouldn’t have any chance,” said 34-year-old Murray. “He’s clearly No. 1 in the world, I’m playing with a metal hip. It’s a great opportunity for me to see where my game is and I can play against him again.”
Murray, who was last ranked No. 1 in 2017, had hip surgery in 2018 and 2019 and dropped to No. 839. He returned to the top 100 only in February.
“I didn’t know I’d ever get this chance, so I’ll enjoy it,” Murray said. “I will take a great attitude in the match, give it my best and see where I stand.”
Djokovic praised Murray for his comeback effort.
“He is progressing well, playing better and better. It is really great to see him because he is such an important player in our game,” said Djokovic. “It is great to see him still compete, And watching him play at a higher level is also impressive considering the time passed, the surgery, and what he’s been through over the years. His resilience and fighting spirit are truly inspiring. ,
Murray, winner at Madrid in 2008 and 2015, is playing on the wild card after changing his mind about leaving the Clay season. He began his Madrid campaign with wins over former No. 3 Dominic Thiem and 14th-seeded Denis Shapovalov. He had not won two matches in a row since reaching the Sydney final in January when he lost in straight sets to Aslan Karatsev.
Djokovic, 34, a three-time winner in the Spanish capital, looked sharp in his opener, calling the two-set win over Gael Monfils “the best performance of the year”.
Djokovic reached Madrid with a 5-3 record in the three tournaments he played. He needed three sets in each of his previous three victories, all before losing in the final in Serbia to Andrey Rublev. He lost to Alejandro Davidovich Focina in his opening match at Monte Carlo, his only clay tournament this season.