The Caja Magica became a sweltering arena for, let’s face it, the de facto final. From the first volley we knew we were in for a treat – even the breaking miss-hit off Rafael Nadal‘s racquet set the scene that today. In a commanding show against defending champion Novak Djokovic, it looked like he was rolling back the years.
It was one-way traffic from the Spaniard who broke Djokovic twice at the start of the match, and while Djokovic struggled with his choice of shot, Nadal kept the pressure on. The Serbian did not get one sniff of a breakpoint, and although he had a higher first serve percentage that Nadal (67% : 61%) his points won off his second serve was pretty woeful – just 22%.
Nadal was denied an early break for the first set, but made no mistake on his own serve to wrap up the first set very comfortably. Things did not start much better for the World No, 2 in the second set, again losing his first service game and unable to find any answers as Nadal consolidated the break comfortably.
We had a glimpse of steadiness as Djokovic held to love to get on the board earlier than he managed in the last set. They looked to be the green shoots of making something happen as he broke Nadal for the first time in the match to level things up at 2-2
The success was short-lived as Nadal broke straight back, leaving Djokovic to chase once more as he tried to turn things around. He would have to rely on Nadal to blink, which he briefly did, as ? match points came and went.
The best chance came in a couple of great rallies but where the Djokovic of old would be able to contort himself into all manner of positions to get the ball back, he just could not get himself over the line, and as the third match-point came, was left looking heavenwards – what more did he need to do to catch a break.
Third time was the charm for Nadal who booked a place in the final, as he snapped his seven match losing streak against Djokovic. There was not much more that the outgoing champion could add, as he admitted that his own quality of tennis just did not match up to where it needed to be.
He told reporters: “Rafa was obviously a better player today. He deserved to win, he was controlling the game from beginning to the end. Second set was a bit closer. Maybe I had some chances to be in the lead, 2-All. Was a long game. I lost the break there.
“All in all, I did try my best. It wasn’t a very high quality of tennis from my side. I made a lot of unforced errors, especially first set. Just his quality was very high. He managed to do whatever he wanted really, especially in the first set. I was getting a lot of balls back. He was serving well. He was using his court positioning well.
“Today was warmer than last three, four days, so conditions were quite different. The ball was bouncing very high. He managed to be better in these kind of conditions.”
Nadal of course has some time on his hands as the second semi-final will start after the women’s final, but while any feel he is a shoo-in to claim a fifth Madrid title, he of course played down Sunday’s opponent.
He said: “It’s going to be a tough match whoever I face tomorrow. Whoever is my opponent tomorrow, it’s going to be a very tough match. The only way to win these kinds of tournaments, because you are playing some of the best players in the world, so you have to play at a very high level to be able to beat them.”
The Mutua Madrid Open Men’s final takes place at 6:30pm (5:30pm BST).
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