Rafael Nadal admits that he is “playing with joy” after he captured a 15th consecutive match win by defeating Dominic Thiem in straight sets to lift a fifth Madrid Open title on Sunday.
The Mallorcan, who will rise to No4 in the world on Monday, overcame a break deficit in the opening set to beat an inspired Thiem 7-6 (8), 6-4 and claim a third clay-court trophy on the trot.
Nadal, who turns 31 next month, saved five of the six break points he faced en route to a memorable triumph at the Caja Magica, that hosted a sell-out crowd that included Brazilian star footballer, Ronaldo.
“I think it was a tough match since the beginning, especially here in altitude, which is difficult to make breaks against a player like Thiem. Returning the ball is difficult, especially when he hits it so high,” said Nadal after the win.
“Since the beginning, I was playing with a lot of pressure. Fortunately I managed to come back and break… Anything could have happened at the end of the first set. But I think I played well the important points at the end of the first set. I saved a few set points playing some good shots with my forehand. After that I went for it.”
Nadal has now equalled Novak Djokovic’s record of most Masters 1000 titles won, having picked up his 30th crown at that level on Sunday.
After losing his first three finals of the season – in Melbourne, Acapulco and Miami – Nadal has now won Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid within the last four weeks. The Spaniard is emerging as the hot favourite to capture a 10th French Open title but he refuses to look that far ahead. He currently leads the ATP Race to London, ahead of Roger Federer.
“I just play every single tournament without thinking a lot of things. I just try to focus. I’m not thinking about the race or anything like that,” said Nadal.
“I just try to go to each tournament to give the best of myself, being conscious when you are in the good way, as I am this year, I have confidence and security in myself. But in December or January, I was not expecting to play badly, because I knew I was doing a very good off-season. I was expecting to play well. Of course, things are working out, and I’m very happy for that.”
Sunday’s victory could have a significant impact on Nadal’s French Open chances as it has moved him past Federer in the rankings, into the top four, which means he could get a more favourable draw as a top-four seed in Paris, avoiding potential quarter-finals against the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
“To try to win Roland Garros, you don’t need to be No4 or No1 or No5, what you need is to play tennis very well. This is the situation right now,” assured Nadal.
“If I am No4 and I played badly, I’m not going to have chances. If I am No5 and I play well, I will have the same chances as if I’m No4 or No5. It’s just circumstantial.”
Nadal’s next stop is Rome, where he’ll be looking to keep his winning streak going. Last year, Nadal picked up a wrist injury in Madrid and played through it in Rome before eventually withdrawing from Roland Garros ahead of his third round there.
He concedes that going to Rome last year was a mistake, but it was a decision based on wrong advice from his doctors.
Nadal says he is fit at the moment and still plans on playing Rome, which has already started with the early rounds on Sunday.
“Physically I’m feeling fit. It’s logical that after a hard week, I’ve been playing a lot of matches, a lot of hours out there on the court, I feel like it’s (knee) sore, a little bit tired. Because I’m not walking perfectly doesn’t mean I have an injury. I’m just a little bit sore, tight. I’m 31 years old. That’s all,” he explained.
“I think today the decision is completely different, the situation is different. I don’t have any problems, any injuries. It’s a very important clay tournament. I’m playing with a lot of joy. I think what is logical is to go to Rome, try to give 100 per cent. After that, I think I have a few days to rest.”
Nadal has a tricky opener in Rome against either home favourite Andreas Seppi, or Spanish former top-tenner Nicolas Almagro. He could face Thiem in the quarter-finals.
Former top-tenner Andrea Petkovic of Germany sat down with Sport360 at the Mutua Madrid Open to reveal some fun facts about herself in this Rapid Fire Round video.
The always hilarious Petkovic talked about her biggest fear, celebrity crush, favourite athlete outside tennis and more.
Petkovic has made it through the qualifying rounds in Rome, after defeating Julia Boserup and Oceane Dodin (who beat the German in Madrid last week) in two tight three-setters.
Stay tuned for our in-depth interview with Petkovic.
Simona Halep successfully defended her Madrid Open title with a hard-fought victory over Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic at the Caja Magica on Saturday.
The Romanian No3 seed, who is the first player to feature in three finals in the Spanish capital, is just the second woman to claim the trophy in consecutive seasons (Serena Williams won it in 2012-13).
It is Halep’s first title triumph since her victory in Montreal last July and it has taken her back into the top four of the world rankings and from No29 to No8 in the Road to Singapore standings.
Mladenovic entered the contest with a 3-1 head-to-head record lead over Halep, and having reached the final in Stuttgart two weeks earlier.
The Frenchwoman, who will rise to No14 in the world when the new rankings are released on Monday, turns 24 today, and could not celebrate her birthday with a second trophy win of the season.
Mladenovic served for the opening set at 5-4 but Halep, who had pulled off a similar Houdini act against Roberta Vinci earlier in the tournament, broke back and took three consecutive games to take a one-set lead.
The Romanian went up an early break in the second but Mladenovic pegged her back and eventually ran away with the set in the tiebreak. Halep got back on track in the decider, opening up a 5-2 lead and closed out the match comfortably to grab her 15th career title.
Mladenovic had tweaked her back during her semi-final against Svetlana Kuznetsova and was asked if it hampered her performance against Halep in the final.
“I think that was an amazing final. I don’t really want to talk about my lower back. Obviously I tried not to show anything. You guys are seeing pretty much everything, I guess,” said Mladenovic.
“Of course, it happened yesterday. I had some tensions, some pain here and there. I was trying not to show anything, not to think about it. I tried to fight over it, continue to enjoy and fight till the end, give everything I had. Honestly, we had an amazing final, and I don’t want to put any comments on my lower back saying that was the reason why I couldn’t make it till the end and win that match.”
The final lasted two hours and 44 minutes, with both players pushing each other to their limits at times.
“Of course, it’s difficult for me right now to end up this amazing week as a finalist. But sometimes it’s also the beauty of the sport. There has to be a winner and a finalist,” said Mladenovic.
“I can just be proud out there from both of us what we showed. I think it was a great final. Great spirit, attitude, great game. Got to give credit to Simona for an amazing game today. Yeah, just head up and only take the positives.”