Nadal closes in on Federer by cruising to fifth successive title

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The Independent Online

The World No 2 Rafael Nadal defeated Nicolas Kiefer 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the Toronto Masters yesterday and closed in on the No 1 ranking. Nadal won his fifth straight title, including the French Open and Wimbledon, and a career-best 29th successive match.

The unseeded Kiefer, ranked 37th in the world, was playing in his first ATP final since 2005. Nadal, who beat Andy Murray on Saturday to reach the final, took his sixth title of the year and the 30th of his career to land a chance to dethrone the top-ranked Roger Federer at this week's Cincinnati Masters.

"I think I have to be happy, very happy if I am No 1 or No 2," said Nadal. "If I am No 2 it's because in front of me there is an amazing player like Roger. Every player wants to be No 1. I would love to be. But I'm No 2 now. I'm very happy for that."

Nadal has cut Federer's lead to 300 points and, if the Spaniard reaches the Cincinnati final and Federer bows out early again, Nadal could end Federer's reign at the top, which has lasted since February 2004.

Since May, Nadal had in succession collected the titles of the Hamburg Masters, his fourth French Open, his first at Queen's Club and his first at Wimbledon in an epic final win over Federer before triumphing in Toronto.

He first broke Kiefer in the fifth game when the German, down 15-40, had Nadal far out of position but hit his drop shot into the net. The players held serve until the ninth game, when Kiefer's third double-fault gave Nadal the set point.

However, Kiefer kept fighting into the second set. He had a chance to break Nadal in the fifth game, but after going to deuce six times, Kiefer looped a backhand well wide. After that Kiefer unraveled. He served a double-fault twice in the next game, then launched a forehand long before Nadal's forehand winner gave him the break.

Nadal then took seven of the next nine points to clinch his second Toronto Masters title, spreading his arms out and looking to the sky in celebration.

On Saturday the Spaniard had ended the Toronto charge of Murray, who had beaten the world No 3, Novak Djokovic, for the first time in five attempts to set up his semi-final against Nadal. Murray matched the Spaniard stroke for stroke for long periods, but, ultimately, he was found wanting on the big points as Nadal won 7-6, 6-3.

Murray said after the match that he believed that Nadal would soon replace Federer as the world No 1. "He's definitely doing a lot of things better than he was in the past," Murray said. "I think he's moving better on hard courts, and I think he's changing the pace of the ball a little bit more and not playing so far behind the baseline like he did in the past. That's why I think he'll be No 1 soon."

The Scot, who has now lost all five meetings with the Spaniard, may have failed to avenge his quarter-final mauling at Wimbledon earlier this month but he can take heart from a much improved display. An aggressive approach almost paid dividends early on when he took Nadal to deuce in the second game, but the Spaniard won an extraordinary rally to hold serve. That was the closest either player came to a break point in the opening set, which eventually went to a tie-break, though Murray's momentum may have been disrupted when he jarred his right knee in the 11th game. In the tie-break, he twice netted forehands to hand Nadal set point before hitting a double-fault.

Faced with two break points early in the second set, Nadal saved one with a truly outrageous drop shot from the baseline, while Murray hit the net on the second. A similar error handed Nadal the first break of the match in the next game, but a double-fault from the Spaniard on break point brought Murray level immediately.

Another tie-break looked likely until Nadal secured another, decisive break in the eighth game. With the Spaniard serving for the match, Murray saved two match points, but missed a close-range volley to gift his opponent a third.