Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are set for a showdown at the Madrid Open on Thursday, with the winner securing a spot in the the quarterfinals and taking another step toward recovery.
Djokovic and Murray are far apart in the rankings, but both have been going through similar times, trying to regain their best form after lackluster starts to the season.
The top-ranked Djokovic is playing in only his fourth tournament after not being allowed to participate in the Australian Open because of his vaccination status. The 78th-ranked Murray, trying to make a run back to the top, is looking to win three matches in a row for the first time since January.
They haven’t faced each other since Djokovic won at the Doha final of 2017.
“We’ve had so many great battles over the years in some of the biggest tournaments in the world,” Murray said. “We played in the final I think of all four Grand Slams, we played here in the final, and I haven’t had that opportunity to play against him for a long time.”
Djokovic defeated Murray in three sets in the Madrid final in 2016. The Serb has 25 wins and 11 losses against the Briton.
“In theory I should have no chance,” the 34-year-old Murray said. “He’s obviously No. 1 in the world, I’m playing with a metal hip. It’s a great opportunity for me to see where my game’s at and to play against him again.”
Murray, who was last ranked No. 1 in 2017, had hip surgeries in 2018 and 2019 and dropped to No. 839. He only returned to the top 100 in February.
“Didn’t know if I ever would get that chance, so I’ll enjoy it,” said Murray, who hadn’t played on clay in nearly two years. “I’ll have a fantastic attitude in the match, give it my best and see where I’m at.”
Djokovic has praised Murray in his comeback attempt.
“He’s moving well, playing better and better. It’s really fantastic to see, because he’s an important player for our game,” Djokovic said. “To have him still compete is great, and to have him even play at a high level as the time goes by is impressive, considering the surgery and what he has been through in the past few years. His resilience and fighting spirit is really inspiring.”
Murray, winner in Madrid in 2008 and 2015, is playing on a wild card after changing his mind about skipping the clay season. He opened his Madrid campaign with victories over former No. 3 Dominic Thiem and 14th-seeded Denis Shapovalov. He hadn’t won two consecutive matches since reaching the Sydney final in January, when he lost to Aslan Karatsev in straight sets.
The 34-year-old Djokovic, a three-time winner in the Spanish capital, looked sharp in his opener, a two-set victory over Gael Monfils in what he called his “best performance of the year.”
Djokovic arrived in Madrid with a 5-3 record in the three tournaments he played. He had needed three sets in each of his last three victories, all in Serbia before losing the final there to Andrey Rublev. He lost to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his opening match in Monte Carlo, which was his only other clay tournament this season.