Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic will defend his title at the Madrid Masters beginning on 7 May Reuters

Novak Djokovic will return to action at the Mutua Madrid Open beginning on Sunday (7 May) with the Serb having to defend 1,000 points following his triumph in 2016.

The 29-year-old has struggled for form since the latter stages of last season and has won just one title — the Qatar Open in January 2017 — since his win at the Montreal Masters in August last year. Djokovic's poor run of form eventually saw him lose his number one ranking to Andy Murray and the gap between the two top ranked players could widen if he fails to defend his crown at the upcoming Madrid event.

"I had not played in Madrid for a couple of years so it was great for me to be able to play again," Djokovic said about his 2016 outing in Madrid, as quoted by Tennis World USA. "It was a fantastic week for me, I had tough opponents and we had some great battles, especially in the final against Andy which set the theme a little bit for the rest of the year. We then played many other finals in Rome, Paris and London."

The current world number two, however, will have to contend with an in-form Rafael Nadal, who is looking for his fifth title in the Spanish capital. The Spaniard is coming into the Masters Series event following back-to-back clay court wins in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and is seen as the favourite to dominate the clay court swing of the season, which culminates with the French Open beginning on 28 May.

"Rafa has had a great start to 2017, he was very close to winning the Australian Open and will be very dangerous on clay. It is his best surface for sure," the Serbian tennis star said about his main rival on clay.

Djokovic also heaped praise on Roger Federer, who will not be playing at Madrid but will return for the second Grand Slam of the year at Roland Garros. The Swiss ace has made his best start to a season since 2006 and is currently on an eight-week break after winning three of the four tournaments he played since the start of the campaign.

The 12-time men's singles Grand Slam winner believes it is great for the sport to have Federer back to his best after questions were raised about his future in the game when he spent six months of last season out with a knee injury.

"Roger proved in Melbourne what a great champion he is, coming back from six months off to win another title. It is great for tennis to have him back on the tour," Djokovic added.