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Madrid Masters 2014: Nadal defeats Bautista Agut to reach final

Rafael Nadal has defeated Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-3 to reach the final at the Madrid Masters.

Rafael Nadal during his match against Roberto Bautista Agut in the Madrid semifinal

Rafael Nadal during his match against Roberto Bautista Agut in the Madrid semifinal

50th consecutive claycourt semifinal win. 44th claycourt final. 90th career final. These were just some of the impressive numbers which resonated after Nadal’s 6-4, 6-3 victory against fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.

Nadal continued his run at the Madrid masters with a clinical victory. Again, he wasn’t 100% flawless, but he was at his best when he needed to be.

There were signs of nerves early on from Bautista Agut. He had hardly warmed up, but was already three break points down after his first three serves. He managed to save two, but conceded on the third with a weak forehand return, which struck the net.

Bautista Agut probably realized that any tardiness on his part would see him getting steam-rolled, so he started returning with interest in Nadal’s opening service game. But too much power worked against him, as Nadal consolidated the break when Bautista Agut fired long.

The lower-ranked Spaniard served poorly early on. He put only 30% of his first serves in, and Nadal took full advantage of his second serves, controlling the points as he always does. But Bautista Agut still managed to hold on, to get off the mark in the set.

At 2-1, 40-30, a superb rally ensued. Agut brought Nadal forward and Nadal responded with a tight angled return at the net. He lobbed it past Nadal, and Nadal ran it down and almost produced a winner, but just fired long. He made amends by cornering Agut and winning the game.

Agut held on, and Nadal was put in a bit of a spot when he was down 15-30. He fought back with an ace, but then double faulted to take the game to deuce. Agut then produced his point of the match, as he powered his forehand crosscourt. Nadal barely managed to put it across the net, only for Agut to swat it away. Nadal conceded the break when his forehand went long, conceding his early momentum along with it.

Agut was getting into his rhythm now and was more confident with his strokes. He was able to better position himself to return Nadal’s top spinning forehands, and stayed with him in the long rallies.

Nadal continued to fight, and with a stunning forehand down the line he reached break point in Agut’s very next game. Agut managed to save it, but he wasn’t quick enough on his strokes and misfired to give another break point to Nadal. The World No. 1 broke back with one of his best points of the match. He returned Agut’s serve with a brilliant backhand return to the net, and reached his drop return to put a winner past him.

He followed it up with a love hold, putting the onus on Agut to serve to stay in the set. The latter did well to hold on, and forced Nadal to serve for the set.

Nadal closed the set with another confident service game. His one-two ploy was spot on, and there was little respite for Agut. He won the set with a brilliant running forehand, which has been working really well for him this week.

Agut started proceedings in the second set, and Nadal reached break point again with a lob past him. Though Agut saved it, Nadal was relentless. In most tournaments he played last year, Nadal broke the opponent early, and backed it up with excellent serving to take control of the match. It looked like he had a similar ploy in mind today, as he kept knocking on Agut’s door. Agut seemed to have lost the will, as a weak return from him gave Nadal an opening game break, similar to the first set.

Nadal powered on. This time it was his backhand down the line which did the talking, and earned the appreciation of Uncle Toni. The shot was so well constructed, you could only watch in awe, whether you were the opponent or a spectator.

The World No. 1 was in his element. And he wasn’t staying back all the time either; he approached every single drop shot which Agut tried, and more often than not, put them past for winners. In no time, Agut was down two break points again, and there was resignation on the unseeded Spaniard’s face as he conceded the break with a long forehand.

Nadal’s second serve, with the huge kick, was as troubling to Agut as his first. He was running rings around his opponent and occasionally on himself, as he raced back and forth to retrieve every return of Agut. Soon he was up 4-0.

You would think the world’s best player would slightly take his foot off the gas, but that simply isn’t in Nadal’s psyche. He wants to win every point, and strive for it like his life depended on it. Two more break point opportunities followed, but some big serving from Agut steadied his ship momentarily. He finally got onto the scoreboard in the second set, but the writing was on the wall.

Agut followed it up with a terrific game. Nadal double faulted but then a long rally followed, where Nadal seemed to be in control of the point, but Agut’s quick hands at the net earned him two break points. He didn’t take advantage of them though; on the second break point, he made a weak return of Nadal’s second serve. Nadal missed a sitter of a forehand on deuce, as the ball hit the frame of the racquet, awarding another break point. This time Agut converted, when after a side-to-side rally, Nadal hit one into the net.

Some power hitting followed from both players, especially Agut. No matter how Nadal carved the inside out forehand, Agut was there to smack it back. He consolidated the break, ensuring Nadal wouldn’t have it easy.

Nadal was back on serve again and a love hold followed. Agut served to stay in the match and continued with his power hitting, except this time Nadal was everywhere the ball was. Nadal reached match point with a forehand down the line and then converted when Agut slipped, and he smacked the ball into the empty court.

Nadal finished with 26 winners, 71%points on first serve and 5 of 13 break points converted.

Things have not been too great for Nadal this clay season, but there was a sense that a comeback was imminent, and just around the corner. A win tomorrow might just signal the start of that.

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