Roger Federer discovers draw for clay court return at Madrid Open

Two-time champion in the Spanish capital to make his first appearance at a clay court tournament after a two-year hiatus

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 04: Rodger Federer of Switzerland trains during day one of the Mutua Madrid Open at La Caja Magica on May 04, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
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Roger Federer will make his return to clay court tennis at the Madrid Open this week and will begin his campaign in the second round against either Frenchman Richard Gasquet or Spain's Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Federer, 37, had opted to skip the European clay court swing the past two seasons but decided to return this year for the Madrid Open, where he is a two-time champion since the tournament switched to clay in 2009.

The Swiss world No 4 has not played since winning the Miami Open in March, and he said on Friday returning to clay courts felt like he was entering "no-man's land".

"I'm very excited. It's a good challenge, a good test. Confidence, I don't know, it's in no-man's land. I have to start from scratch," said Federer, who has won 11 of his 101 titles on clay.

As the fourth seed, Federer has received a bye to the second round and will face the winner of Gasquet's match with wildcard entry Davidovich Fokina. Should it then go with seeding, Federer could face Gaels Monfils, Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic and then Rafael Nadal in the final.

As the world No 1 and top seed, Djokovic also faces a tough route to the final in Madrid. He will likely take on Grigor Dimitrov in the second round, before facing French Open semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato, Juan Martin Del Potro, then Federer and Nadal.

The 31-year-old Serbian has endured a slump in form since winning a third successive grand slam title at the Australian Open in January, with early exits at Indian Wells, Miami, and Monte Carlo.

Nadal, meanwhile, will be looking to win his first clay court title of the season when he begins against one of Canada's NextGen talents. Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime face each other in the first round, with the winner progressing to face the five-time champion.

Defending champion Alexander Zverev, who won last year's title without facing a break point, faces a tricky opening assignment as the German third seed takes on the winner of the all-Spanish clash between David Ferrer and Roberto Bautista Agut.