Baptism of fire awaits Roger Federer on Madrid clay


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The Independent Online

Roger Federer could hardly face a tougher challenge than the one awaiting him as he makes his first appearance of the European clay-court season at the Madrid Masters today. The 30-year-old Swiss, who has not played a competitive match for six weeks, had a bye in the first round. He now faces Milos Raonic, who beat David Nalbandian 6-4, 6-4 yesterday.

Raonic, a 6ft 5in Canadian with one of the biggest serves in the game, is a career-best No 23 in the world rankings, having beaten Andy Murray and Nicolas Almagro in Barcelona. Federer won their only previous meeting, in Indian Wells in March, but the 21-year-old Raonic has won titles this year in Chennai and San Jose.

Rafael Nadal, unbeaten on clay this year, also faces a tricky match on the blue courts of which he has been highly critical. The world No 2 meets Nikolay Davydenko, who has beaten him in six of their 10 meetings, including the four most recent. However, Nadal has won all three encounters on clay.

Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, the top two seeds in the women's event, both made progress at the expense of Czech opponents. Despite a wobble at the end of the second set, Azarenka beat Andrea Hlavackova 6-3, 7-6. Sharapova beat Klara Zakopalova 6-4, 6-3.