Rafael Nadal survived Kei Nishikori to win the 2014 ATP 1000 Madrid title. The Spaniard won the match 2-6, 6-4, 3-0. For the first set and much of the second, it looked like another shock defeat was on the cards for the world no.1 but his great experience and a touch of luck came into play to help him win his biggest trophy of the 2014 season.
For a while, Nishiori looked every bit the champion he has been touted to be. Playing his first ATP 1000 final, Nishikori took the first set and had the better of Nadal until the heart of the second. Nadal though dug deep and began to find his depth and range in the rallies, moving Nishikori around and denying him the space and time he had had so much of at the start of the match. It was Nadal’s improved play which contributed to Nishikori’s decline. Forced to go for one ball too many, Nishikori injured his groin and failed to win another game.
Nadal took the second set, and raced into a 3-0 lead in the third as Nishikori was unable to run or serve and seemed to be more indecisive about giving up in the biggest match of his career than in deciding what patterns of play to use. Eventually, the injury proved to be as much a hurdle to overcome as a dogged Nadal and on the second change of ends in the third set, Nishikori removed his headband and walked to the net to shake Nadal’s hand.
For Nadal, it was another twist in what is proving to be an unpredictable season. A shock loss to Wawrinka in the Australian Open final seemed to have a domino effect on subsequent tournaments culminating in the biggest shocks of them all- losses to Ferrer and Amalgro in Barcelona and Monte Carlo.
Nadal was open about how the losses were denting his confidence and Madrid, the Clay court event at which he has had the least success, looked like it might be another event where Nadal would taste defeat. But the withdrawals of Djokovic and Federer plus the early loss of Wawrinka opened up the draw and Nadal took full advantage. The world no.1 did not drop a set on his way to the final, and the only top ten player he faced was Tomas Berdych. The Czech may be proficient on Clay but he poses no problems to Nadal on the stuff, winning just six games in their quarter-final.
Nishikori was ranked 12 going into the final but played like the top tenner he now is as he threatened to win his first ATP 1000 title in his first ever final appearance. The injury to Nishikori’s groin means Nadal still has reserves to draw upon as he enters next week’s event in Rome where his no.1 status and aura will still be shaky as players consider he dodged something of a bullet in the Madrid final. Indeed, while Nadal may be playing better than he has done this season, it is still unproven as to whether or not he is really back to being the King of Clay once again.
Commentary by Christian Deverille