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Madrid Open Men's draw - Rafael Nadal discovers first-round opponent

Following the draw for the Madrid Open men's singles event, Sports Mole runs down the key talking points, including Rafael Nadal's first-round fate.

The Park Manzanares clay awaits the finest that the tennis world has to offer for the next two weeks, as ATP Tour players vie for glory in this year's edition of the Madrid Open.

The event marks the fourth Masters tournament of the year for male players, who have already clashed in Monte Carlo, Miami and Indian Wells at 1000 level - Stefanos Tsitsipas was crowned the champion of the former earlier this month.

However, with Novak Djokovic opting not to compete in the Spanish capital this time around, defending champion Carlos Alcaraz is the man to beat, while Jannik Sinner enters as the top seed.

The draw for the men's singles event was held on Monday, and here, Sports Mole takes a look at some of the key points and headlines which could potentially be written.

Rafael Nadal to face 16-year-old wild card

Rafael Nadal pictured at the Australian Open on January 18, 2023© Reuters

There will be no prizes for guessing who the loudest cheers will go to this week, as clay aficionado Rafael Nadal - a five-time winner of the Madrid Open - makes his long-awaited return to Masters territory for the first time in over a year.

The 22-time major winner has not competed at an ATP 1000 event since the 2022 Paris Masters, but after pulling out of Monte Carlo, Nadal was given the green light to play at the Barcelona Open, just his second top-level tournament of the year.

The 37-year-old's comeback match saw him ease past Flavio Cobolli in round one before falling to defeat against Alex de Minaur in round two, and he will have a shot at revenge against the Australian 10th seed should he avoid a shock loss in his opening tie.

Indeed, Nadal has been drawn to face American 16-year-old wildcard Darwin Blanch, who reached the semi-finals of the French Open and Wimbledon junior tournaments last year and only made his ATP Tour debut at the Miami Open this year, losing to Tomas Machac in straight sets.

Blanch warmed up for his Madrid debut by reaching the semi-finals of an ITF tournament in Spain over the weekend, but little can prepare him for a showdown with Nadal, who had already won three French Open titles by the time the teenager was born.

British trio kept apart

Cameron Norrie in action at the Monte Carlo Masters on April 7, 2024© Reuters

As Andy Murray battles back from the painful ankle injury he sustained at the Miami Open, Jack Draper, Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie will be flying the flag high for Great Britain in the men's singles event this year.

As the 29th seed, Norrie - who progressed to the quarter-finals in Barcelona last week, achieving his 200th ATP Tour win in the process - received a bye into the second round, where he will take on either Alex Michelsen or Joao Fonseca.

Victory in that contest could see Norrie earn a third-round reunion with Casper Ruud, whom he memorably defeated at this year's Australian Open, while both Evans and Draper will face as yet unknown qualifiers in their first-round matches.

While Evans and Draper cannot meet each other until the semi-finals at the earliest, both men will be up against it in the second round should they progress that far; the former is on a collision course with Andrey Rublev, while Draper will take on Hubert Hurkacz if he wins his opener.

All-Italian tie awaiting Jannik Sinner?

Jannik Sinner reacts at the Indian Wells Masters on March 14, 2024© Reuters

The only man seeded higher than reigning champion Alcaraz for the 2024 Madrid Open, Italian history-maker Sinner bids to continue his stellar run of reaching the semi-finals on all of his Masters appearances so far in 2024.

The Australian Open holder took the Miami Open title either side of defeats in the last four of the Indian Wells and Monte Carlo tournaments, but he missed last year's Madrid Open due to illness and is yet to advance past the third round.

Before Sinner can get excited about potentially facing Ruud in the last eight, he may have to get through compatriot Lorenzo Sonego - taking on a qualifier - in round two, as the latter bids to earn his first Madrid main-draw win at the third attempt.

On the other side of the draw, holder Alcaraz will be in second-round action against Arthur Rinderknech or Alexander Shevchenko, and either Rublev or Holger Rune may be lying in store for a quarter-final blockbuster.

> Click here for a rundown of the women's draw, including Emma Raducanu's first-round fate

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