If anyone believes that Rafael Nadal is not the greatest clay court tennis player the world has ever seen, then they would have to be living under a rock. Winning the Mutua Madrid Open was his 52nd title on clay and 72nd career crown.
Nadal defeated Dominic Thiem in an exciting final winning Madid Open for the fifth time, 7-6(8) 6-4 in two hours 17 minutes. It is his 30th ATP Masters 1000 title which ties him with Novak Djokovic, who he beat in the semis (it was their 50th match and Nadal’s first win over Djokovic since Roland Garros 2014 having lost seven in a row), for the most titles at that level of the circuit.
Incredibly he remains undefeated on clay this year and has dropped only two sets on clay; this was his third title on the surface in a row, having won the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters and then Barcelona for the tenth time each. He is on a 15-0 win-loss record on red clay and this result returns Nadal to the No.4 ranking – it is his first time back in the top four since 3rd October, 2016.
“Normally, I don’t expect anything; I go my way and things happen,” Nadal said. “I just try to do things as best as possible. After that, I am conscious that if I am fit and I can play well, I have the capacity. I see myself being able to win important titles and achieve my goals.
“After that I don’t think whether I can or whether I can’t do something. 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. 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.”
The two men produced some extraordinary tennis in the first set. Thiem was coming off a very late finish from his semi-final when he beat Pablo Cuevas but the adrenaline was not missing from the Austrian’s game as he challenged Nadal at every opportunity. Thiem, who lost to Nadal in the Barcelona final, scored the first service break of this final but Nadal struck right back.
The tennis was magical, living up to the name of the stadium, La Caja Magica (The Magic Box). At 5-4 in the first, Thiem fended off break points and pushed the set to a breaker where the standard of tennis lifted yet again; almost half the tiebreaker points played were outright winners.
Despite losing that emotionally draining first set, Thiem still pushed things but one could see that Nadal was gaining a micro edge and on clay not even a millimetre can be given to Nadal. Thiem saved two match points at 3-5 and even had four break points a game later but the Spaniard closed out the title on his fourth championship point.
“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,” Nadal said. “Returning the ball is difficult, especially when he hits it so high. Since the beginning, I was playing with a lot of pressure. Fortunately I managed to come back and break. I think he made an error, so I managed to break again.
“After that, I calmed down. I think I played a good first set. 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.
“I knew at the beginning of the second set, it was going to be very important. Once you finish a first set like that, it’s normal to lower your level a little bit. I had to play well in the second set. I started with a break, so that was very good towards what I had to do after that.”
Thiem said of his effort: “Of course, I gave everything that I could. But there were many or some chances in the first set. But obviously if you want to play a close match, if you want to have a chance winning against Rafa on clay, I mean, you have to play your best. There’s no other way. And, of course, it would be enough against many other players.
“It was a final of a Masters 1000, my first one, against the best player on this surface ever. Sometimes against the best players in the world, you even lose when you play well. That’s the thing in tennis: there’s only one winner.”
The doubles title was won by Marcelo Melo and Lukas Kubot 7-5, 6-3 over Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Nicolas Mahut.