ANDY MURRAY was forced to pull out ahead of his first meeting against Novak Djokovic in five years.
Novak Djokovic has changed his game plan after receiving a walkover to the Madrid quarter-finals with Andy Murray’s withdrawal. The old rivals were set to face off for a 37th time and the first in more than five years on Thursday but the Brit was forced to pull out ahead of the match with illness.
Djokovic booked himself an extra hour of practice upon learning Murray had withdrawn from their match, as he continues to build his form and momentum ahead of his upcoming French Open title defence. The world No 1 has played few matches this year with his unvaccinated status keeping him out of several tournaments, and would have been relishing the challenge of facing his old rival as part of his preparation for the upcoming Grand Slam.
The Serb had been set to have a short session from 10:30am to 11am local time before the match got underway at midday in Madrid, but changed his plans and booked an extra hour from 11am to 12pm, giving himself a lengthy 90-minute practice session to keep building with the French Open on the horizon.
Ahead of the tournament this week, the two-time former champion in Madrid said it “was not easy” to be “lacking matches and this kind of environment under these kind of circumstances” and was eager to get more matches under his belt with a return to a regular schedule for the clay-court swing. “I’m happy that I’m back on track in terms of being able to play in tournaments and, you know, having clarity in terms of schedule, where I need to go, where I can go, where I can peak and where I want to peak. Obviously in clay that’s Roland Garros” he added.
It means Murray’s withdrawal will come as a blow to the Serb, who wanted as many competitive matches as possible before his first Grand Slam tournament of the year kicks off in less than three weeks. With a walkover into the quarter-finals, he now faces the winner of a match between Hubert Hurkacz and his compatriot Dusan Lajovic.
If each player can make it that far, Djokovic will have his toughest test of the season in the semi-finals where he could potentially face either Rafael Nadal or Carlos Alcaraz. The top seed so far has only one match under his belt in Madrid despite making it to the last eight – a 6-3 6-2 win over Gael Monfils.
It was an 18th successive win over the Frenchman for Djokovic in the second-round, and the first time in six matches he did not drop the opening set. Speaking after the match, he said: “Probably the best match of the year so far for me. I haven’t played many matches and am still finding my groove, but a very good win against a very tricky opponent who is so fast, you have to expect you are going to play an extra shot against Gael, one of the quickest, most athletic players in the game.”
He will now be hoping his extra work on the practice court comes in handy for his Friday quarter-final, with just one tournament left between Madrid and the French Open – next week’s Rome Masters where Djokovic is defending runner-up points.