For about 80 minutes, Kei Nishikori looked like a top three player in the world as he moved Rafael Nadal to all parts of the red clay during the Mutua Madrid Final. His effort was so comprehensively dominant that it seemed only a matter of minutes that he would hoist his second clay court championship inside of a month (Nishikori won Barcelona last month).
Nishikori struck early by breaking serve in the third game of the first set as he converted break point with a beautiful backhand volley winner. He would hold easily and then added a double break game advantage by breaking Nadal’s serve in the fifth game. Suddenly, it was 6-2 and the crowd was stunned to watch Nadal garner only one winner against nine unforced errors.
Nishikori started the second set with a backhand winner and two errors by the number one seeded Nadal had him staring at a 15-40 deficit. Nishikori secured the service break with another inside-out forehand winner. Each player held serve until 4-3 in the second set. On the changeover, the trainer came out to check Nishikori’s back and groin area.
Nadal would force deuce in the ninth game and when Nishikori shanked a forehand into the net and another ball flew long after catching the net-cord – the second set was suddenly deadlocked at 4-4 and his confidence restored. Nadal would hold serve for 5-4.
Nishikori would take a five minute injury time out and as the third set opened, it was obvious that the Japanese star was favoring his left leg – leaving him rather immobile and unable to put any pace on his serve.
Nadal won 12 of the next 14 points for a 3-0 lead and on the changeover, Nishikori conceded. The final score was 2-6, 6-4, 3-0 (retired).
The victory, though bittersweet for its truncated finish, was Nadal’s 44th tournament win on clay.