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.