Sunday, May 11, 2014

2014 MADRID: Nadal Wins When Nishikori Withdraws, Sharapova Outlasts Halep

As I predicted, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova won the Mutua Madrid Open on Sunday, cementing their status as favorites to win the clay court major in Paris in two weeks.

However, no one predicted that the two challengers, Kei Nishikori and Simona Halep would come out so strong and essentially blow away the eventual winner in the first set. Nishikori was up 6-2 4-2 before his back went out and he basically could no longer hit the ball, eventually retiring down 2-6 6-4 3-0 having lost seven consecutive games. This should actually give the rest of the field some hope because if Nishikori had been able to sustain his level of play for just 10-15 more minutes, he almost certainly would have earned his first victory over Nadal. Many commentators that the victory was a karmic one for Nadal, as he lost the 2014 Australian Open to Stanislas  wawrinka primarily due to an injury suffered in the warm-up! Today he was the recipient of a win due to an injured opponent. I'm sure Nadal would rather have another title in Melbourne instead of four in Madrid.

As for Sharapova, she simply started badly, and as she got better in the match, her opponent got worse. It wasn't clear if it was fatigue, but Halep's movement dropped off, her groundstrokes started to have less firepower just as Sharapova was gaining in confidence and pulverizing the ball into the corners, with the score of 1-6 6-2 6-3 the inevitable result.

By winning in Madrid for the first time (after making the final last year), Sharapova earned her 9th career clay court title, 31st overall and improved to 47-3 on clay since 2012, with all three losses coming to Serena Williams. If Serena is not healthy in Paris, she better watch out! I do believe other players on tour can beat Sharapova on clay (Li Na, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep come to mind) but somehow they have not managed to do so over the last 24 months is a significant fact.
Sharapova will rise to World 37 while Halep remains at World #5.

Nadal's win was his 4th in Madrid, his 63rd career title (44 of which have come on clay). He improved to 30-5 for 2014, the best record on tour and defends his title from last year. He also extends his lead in Masters 1000 events to 27, now six ahead of Roger Federer who has 21.

Generally the person who wins the most of the available 9 Masters shields in the year ends up at #1. Novak Djokovic has 2 (Indian Wells and Miami), Wawrinka has 1 (Monte Carlo) and Nadal has 1 (Madrid) with Rome starting on Monday. Nadal is the defending champion and if he does not repeat as champion and Djokovic gets past the quarterfinal stage, there may be a new #1 in time for the French Open.

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