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Madrid Masters 2014: Rafael Nadal claims record 27th Masters crown after Nishikori retires with back spasms

Madrid Masters 2014: Rafael Nadal claims record 27th Masters crown after Nishikori retires with back spasms

Rafael Nadal of Spain and  Kei Nishikori of Japan hold their trophies after Nishikori retired injured in the third set in their final match during day nine of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 11, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.

Rafael Nadal of Spain and Kei Nishikori of Japan hold their trophies after Nishikori retired injured in the third set in their final match during day nine of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 11, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.

Finals: Rafael Nadal def. Kei Nishikori 2-6 6-4 3-0(retd.) 

Rafael Nadal claimed a record 27th Masters 1000 title winning the Mutua Madrid Masters event beating Japanese Kei Nishikori. In doing so, Nadal became the first person to defend his title at the Spanish capital.

But, it wasn’t without a bit of an anticlimax in the end, when after pushing Nadal all the way, Nishikori struggled with a back spasm at the start of the third set, and eventually retired after struggling to walk, let alone play. It was a classy show of sportsmanship from both players though, with Nishikori trying his best before retiring, and Nadal not celebrating his victory.

Nadal controlled the baseline from the start and, asked to serve by Nishikori first, he opened with a love hold.

Nadal had a mini-break on Nishikori’s serve, but the Japanese served well to come back to 30-30. Nadal produced a deep cross-court forehand and approached the net to get his first break point. Nishikori did brilliantly to hold on with two massive forehands of his own to level the scores at 1-1.

Nadal conceded two break points of his own in the next game. A double fault didn’t help and he mistimed a forehand. He saved one, but the second point was the point of the match until then. Nishikori retrieved every shot from Nadal’s racquet and then managed to turn a defensive position to an offensive one to corner Nadal and convert the break.

Suddenly the momentum seemed to be all with Nishikori as errors flowed from Nadal’s forehand and Nishikori consolidated the break to go 3-1 up.

The young Japanese’s shots were exteremely powerful and clean, as Nadal scampered to try and put the ball back in the court. He went up 0-30 on Nadal’s serve again, but made a couple of errors. Nadal couldn’t have found a worse moment to commit a double fault, but he did, and Nishikori pummeled his second serve, and claimed a double break advantage.

Given the start Nadal had, no one would have expected him to be down 4-1 a few minutes later, but that was the level at which Nishikori was playing, and he was deservedly in front. He held easily to take a commanding 5-1 lead as Nadal looked awfully out of touch. His only winner had come in the first game of the match.

His attempts at attacking Nishikori’s backhand were futile, as Nishikori returned them acutely, giving Nadal little time to return them back. He was down break point again, with yet another missed forehand, but saved it with a properly executed one-two. Nadal held on, to make Nishikori serve for the set, but he was still not in his element.

Nishikori confidently served out the set finishing with an ace to shock the crowds by taking it 6-2.

The only positive which Nadal could take out of the set was that he would be serving ahead in the second. He seemed reluctant to go for winners and in the meantime, Nishikori adjusted his position well to wrong-foot him. His strokes were of sustained quality, and he gained three break points in Nadal’s opening game. He got the break, with a screamer of a forehand cross-court, which even Nadal couldn’t reach. Nishikori was positive and growing in confidence with each passing shot while Nadal seemed confused.

But Nadal wasn’t out of this yet. He set up three break points, with what was his first confident forehand down the line. Nishikori saved all three and the frustration was seen on Nadal’s face as he smashed his racquet with his hand. Nishikori consolidated the break with yet another angled forehand.

Nadal finally got some first serves in and held on to his serve confidently for the first time since the first game of the opening set.

The world No.1 managed to push Nishikori to deuce in the next game again, but hit his shot into the net, allowing the Japanese a 3-1 lead. Nadal followed it up with another confident service game, staying as close to Nishikori as possible.

The Spaniard was trying to find some gaps in Nishikori’s game, but the top-ranked Japanese player continued to step into the court and wrong-foot Nadal. He led 4-2 and time was running out for Nadal.

Nadal again held confidently, but the break was still eluding him. On Nishikori’s next serve, it was Nadal’s time to wrong-foot him this time as he controlled the point like only he can and let out a roar after claiming it. Two break points were the reward for his doggedness.

Nishikori though, was cool as ice. He saved both break points – first with a perfectly executed drop shot and the second by attacking Nadal’s backhand. But he misfired on deuce to give Nadal another break point. When he again misfired, Nadal finally got his first break of the match, shifting the momentum ever so slightly towards him.

You could see the determination on Nadal’s face as he served at 4-4. Four strong first serves followed and he held on for a love hold, leaving Nishikori to serve to stay in the second set.

Kei continued the same ploy as the one he’d been following through the match, after taking a medical time out for his back, but this time Nadal returned well and went up 15-30. Nishikori then made a crucial error, gifting Nadal set point. Nishikori hit long again, and Nadal was right back in the match. He had reeled off 4 straight games.

Nadal started proceedings in the third set too, and Nishikori’s back seemed to bother him as he meekly hit long to give Nadal a love hold in the opener.

Kei’s struggles were reminiscent of Nadal’s own at the Australian Open, as there was no zip in his serve, and he struggled to move. The crowd tried to cheer him up, but it was clear he was in no state to play. His serves were stand-and-deliver, and Nadal broke easily to take a 2-0 lead.

As Nishikori trudged back to his seat, head down, he knew that if there was one player who could empathize with his situation, it was his opponent. He withdrew from the match, and although it was a sad end to a spectacular match, he showed that he was here to stay among the tour’s elite in the long run.

While Nadal wasn’t at his best in this match, this victory would be a welcome one for him, regardless of the manner of victory. In addition to defending his points, he also got his first title in the clay season, and will not be heading to Roland Garros without one. He also plays in Rome next where and the altitude suits his play better, and he will be all fired up to retain his title there as well. With Novak Djokovic returning in Rome, an interesting week lies ahead.

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