ThrowbackTimes Madrid: Rafael Nadal defends title over injured Kei Nishikori

Rafael Nadal claimed six ATP titles on clay in 2013, including back-to-back ones in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. A year later, things didn’t work that well for the Spaniard on his beloved surface, suffering quarter-final losses in Monte Carlo and Barcelona to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro and hoping to bounce back at home in Madrid. Rafa played well against Juan Monaco, Jarkko Nieminen, Tomas Berdych and Roberto Bautista Agut to advance into the fifth final from six editions at Caja Magica against Kei Nishikori. The aggressive Japanese had the strings of the encounter in his hands, needing only an hour to forge a 6-2, 3-1 advantage and standing on the verge of the first Masters 1000 title before he suffered a back injury that forced him to retire in the decider! In the end, Nadal scored a 2-6, 6-4, 3-0 win in an hour and 43 minutes to lift the 27th Masters 1000 crown and the fourth in Madrid, nine years after the first one on an indoor hard court.

Struggling to match the rival’s pace, Rafa got broken thrice in that first part of the encounter, making too many errors and failing to impose his strokes. Still, the Spaniard claimed seven straight games from 4-2 down in the second to improve his numbers against the opponent who was miles from his best, securing three consecutive breaks before Kei retired after taking only one point in the third set. Nishikori had the upper hand in the most extended rallies. Still, Nadal erased that deficit in the shortest and mid-range exchanges, playing better and better after that comeback and celebrating the title soon after that, as Nishikori had nothing left in the tank.

Nishikori had a big lead vs. Rafael Nadal before getting injured in Madrid 2014.

Spreading the defending champion over the baseline, Kei earned a break in the third game. The Japanese confirmed it with a service winner and forged a 4-1 advantage with another break in game five following a strong return that Rafa failed to control. Nadal saved a set point at 1-5, but that was all he did, as Nishikori closed the opener with an ace in the next game after 36 minutes.

Kei secured a break at the beginning of the second set with a forehand winner, acting as a dominant figure on the court so far and fending off three break chances in the next one to cement the advantage. The Japanese held at 15 in game six for a 6-2, 4-2 lead, overpowering the home favorite in every segment and looking good to seal the deal soon after that. Still, that was the point when he started to struggle, asking for a medical timeout after the seventh game for a lower back injury and never winning another game by the end of the match! Rafa pulled the break back in game eight after a sublime defense, gathered boost and held at love to gain the lead. After another treatment, Kei got broken in game ten to hand the set to the crowd favorite, taking only one point in the decider’s first three games and retiring after not willing to risk an even more severe injury. 

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