Little more than three months ago an apprehensive Rafael Nadal was preparing to make his comeback after seven months out with a knee injury that had left him wondering whether he would ever play again. Yesterday the 26-year-old Spaniard continued his extraordinary return by winning the Madrid Masters, beating Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2, 6-4 in the final.
Nadal has played in seven tournaments since starting his comeback, has reached the final every time and won five titles, which is more than any other player has won on the men’s tour this year.
Despite having not played in the Australian Open or in any build-up tournaments before the year’s opening Grand Slam event, Nadal is second behind Novak Djokovic, the Melbourne champion, in the “Race for London”, which lists ranking points won this year counting towards qualification for the year-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena.
“Maybe this win is even more special given where I have come back from,” Nadal said after winning the Madrid title for a third time. “Playing in Madrid is always very exciting for me and the tournament couldn’t have worked out better.”
Nadal raced into a 4-0 lead and broke Wawrinka’s serve three times in the match. The Spaniard, who did not face a single break point, fell on his back in celebration after claiming victory at a tournament which he had threatened to boycott after last year’s event because of the controversial switch to a blue claying surface. On the traditional red clay, however, he was back to his best.
Wawrinka has been one of the form players of the year, especially on clay, but the 28-year-old Swiss was up against it from the start. Wawrinka, who had beaten Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych en route to the final, has yet to win a set in nine matches against Nadal. He said he had not been at his best physically or mentally after some gruelling matches recently.
“Even if I’m playing my best tennis and completely fresh, it’s really, really tough to beat him,” Wawrinka said afterwards. “If you’re not completely there then he’s killing you, like he did at the beginning of the match. It was tough for me. I didn’t find the way to play my game, how to be aggressive on the court. He was also dictating the points. Against him, it’s impossible.”
Having won titles in Sao Paulo, Acapulco, Indian Wells, Barcelona and Madrid, Nadal now heads for this week’s Rome Masters. The world No 5 has won six times at the Foro Italico. After that he will be aiming to win the French Open for the eighth time.
Andy Murray said yesterday that Nadal’s recent form had been no surprise. “I think his record on clay was incredible before the injury and I expected him to come back and play well,” Murray said.
“He’s still going to improve on clay, but even if he hadn’t been playing as well, on this surface he’s still a long way ahead of the rest of the pack. His consistency has been very impressive since he’s come back. It’ll be interesting to see if he can maintain that because it’s not easy.”