Nadal Claims Final Thriller: How The Madrid Final Was Won
Rafael Nadal was made to work in claiming his fifth Mutua Madrid Open title, edging Dominic Thiem 7-6(8), 6-4 in his home capital on Sunday. Thiem refused to back down in his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final and the pair would produce a stunning display of high-octane tennis from first ball to last. Nadal eventually converted his fourth championship point to close out one of the matches of the year on the ATP World Tour.
The five-time champion extended his unbeaten start to the European clay-court season, which stands at 15-0 following the final. He adds to victories at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, where he also defeated Thiem in the final. The Spaniard lifted a record-tying 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown, joining Novak Djokovic in the elite club.
Here is how the final unfolded..
FIRST SET - Nadal 7-6(8)
Thiem burst out of the gates on a sunny late afternoon at the Caja Magica, exhibiting no signs of rust after a midnight semi-final finish against Pablo Cuevas. Launching his forehand deep to Nadal's backhand, the Austrian claimed first blood in the third game.
Nadal refused to be broken in their Barcelona final just two weeks prior, but he would concede the first break of the match in the Spanish capital as Thiem struck a volley winner. But the home favourite answered in kind in the sixth game, claiming the point of the match with a stunning defensive display from well behind the baseline. He would draw level for 3-all and pushed Thiem to the brink with the 23 year old serving to stay in the set at 5-4.
Thiem escaped from a 0/40 deficit in that game, denying all three set points and punctuating the hold with an ace down the T. Continuing to strike his forehand with conviction, Thiem was not fazed by the moment of his first Masters 1000 final and would force an opening tie-break.
The margins proved to be razor thin as the set neared its conclusion. Thiem clawed back from a mini-break down with a beautiful forehand into the open court and Nadal rifled a sublime backhand winner at 6-all. The hot shots continued as the tie-break wore on, with Thiem digging deep with a clutch stab volley winner at 7-all. But Nadal is the King of Clay for a reason and he would not be denied, taking the opener 10-8 in the tie-break after a gripping one hour and 18 minutes of high-octane tennis.
Eight of the 18 points in the tie-break were won with outright winners.
SECOND SET - Nadal 6-4
Nadal fired just 14 winners to Thiem's 16 in the first set, but the Austrian was victimised by 21 unforced errors. It would continue to plague him in the opening game of the second set. Nadal was a defensive demon, tracking down everything Thiem sent his way, and he would capture the initial break for 1-0 as the World No. 9 sent a forehand long.
Thiem would not back down, proving why he is one of the brightest stars on the ATP World Tour. But despite continuing to fight and battle for every point, his energy began to fade after such an emotionally-charged first set.
Nadal held to love in two straight service games and was relentless from the baseline as the match neared the finish line. A brilliant running forehand pass moved him to within two points of the title, with Thiem serving down 5-3.
The Austrian would valiantly save two championship points at 15/40 and remarkably held four break points with Nadal serving for the title in the next game. But the Manacor native fired an ace, a service winner and a powerful forehand winner down the line, and he would eventually lift the trophy after two hours and 18 minutes of stunning, world-class tennis.