15 May, 2017
Rafael Nadal extended his record as the Madrid Open's most successful champion on Sunday after a 7-6 (8), 6-4 defeat of Dominic Thiem was enough to see the Spaniard clinch a fifth career crown in the final of the 2017 tournament.
The victory is Nadal's 30th at Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Masters 1000 level, meaning he has tied the record held by Serbia's Novak Djokovic. If I'm at my best and he's at his best on clay, he's probably the better player.
Nadal finally broke in the third game of the second set before having to stave off four break points on his own serve to consolidate his lead at 3-1.
A missed drop shot here and an overhit forehand there saw Nadal gift Thiem a 15-40 lead, but the veteran powered back, saving four break points before sealing match point at the second time of asking.
Imperious on serve, Nadal was able to dictate play from the baseline and when Thiem tried to take control the Spaniard's improving athleticism kept him in rallies. He won his 34th match of the season against five defeats.
This win is yet another reason why 2017 feels more like 2007, with Nadal and Roger Federer seemingly finding the fountain of youth together.
Given his form, I think he can go close and will back him each way to small stakes.More news: Concussed Crosby skates with Penguins, no word on return
It was the first title of the season for the eighth-ranked Halep, who was the first player to make it to three Madrid finals.
With his fifth Madrid Masters title, Nadal received 1,000 points and rose to World No. 4 in the ATP rankings after starting the new season with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his future. But, again, I just had an opponent that was too good.
"Today is a day to be satisfied, to be happy and to have this trophy", Nadal said after winning in his homeland.
"I gave everything that I could", Thiem said. "Let's respect his level right now because it's true that perhaps it's not as high as it used to be, but I'm telling you, it's been a lot of years, and I know because I've been in his skin, being up there every single week, being No. 1 every single week, it's nearly impossible".
By capturing his 5th Madrid Masters title, Nadal took his tally of career clay-court tournaments to 52, leading the Argentine legend Guillermo Vilas. "To play here and win here means a lot to me".
The four-time champion made light work of defending champion Novak Djokovic (6-2, 6-4) in what was a highly-anticipated semi-final tie yesterday. It's just the titles that you have won. And in his first clay-court tournament of the year, in Monte Carlo, Djokovic was eliminated by David Goffin in the quarterfinals. "I hope to do the same in Rome (in this week's Italian Open)".