Madrid Masters – Djokovic triumphs, Nadal’s clay struggles continue, Federer returns
Novak Djokovic claimed a record equalling 33rd ATP Masters 1000 title last weekend as he produced a dominant display in the Spanish capital. Alex Grant has more.
The world number one who has struggled for form since winning the Australian Open in January eased to victory beating young next gen star Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 6-4 in the final.
The Serbian who looked to be back to his best throughout the tournament was forced to dig deep to beat an in-form Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals before recording a straight-forward victory against a tired looking Tsitsipas.
Djokovic, looking to win his third Madrid Masters crown, started the better of the two men racing to a 3-0 first set lead after breaking the 20-year-old Greek in the second game.
Tsitsipas, who looked off his game after coming through a late night battle to beat world number two, Rafael Nadal, in three sets just the night before, dug deep, however, and kept the match tight but upon losing serve again in the ninth game of the second set succumbed to Djokovic’s superiority.
Victory saw Djokovic tie Nadal’s record of 33 Masters 1000 titles although admitted afterwards that he had been helped by his opponent’s tiredness:
“This is a very important win for me, especially for my confidence,” Djokovic told Sky Sports. “I wasn’t playing my best tennis after the Australian Open so I was looking to regain momentum. I played some of my best tennis here.”
Djokovic added: “I needed to step up, Stefanos is very talented. He beat Rafa yesterday, he had a late night and he wasn’t as dynamic in his movement and that was probably due to his long match.”
Elsewhere it hasn’t been as successful a return to his beloved clay for Rafael Nadal as he continues to struggle on the surface where he has always enjoyed his most success.
His semi-final loss to Tsitsipas in Madrid marked his third straight semi-final exit at his opening three clay events – Monte Carlo (l. Fognini), Barcelona (l. Thiem) – these struggles have coincided with a range of inconsistencies in the Spaniard’s game with his play ranging from the supreme one point to the abysmal the next.
The legendary Spaniard in fact went as far as to describe his Monte Carlo loss to the unpredictable Italian Fabio Fognini as one of his worst commenting:
“I played one of my worst matches on clay in 14 years.”
This was followed by his first ever defeat at the semi final stage in Barcelona as he fell in straight sets to Austrian world number four Dominic Thiem, who has now beaten the Spaniard on the dirt at least once in each of the past four seasons.
Nadal, however, chose to look at the positives following that defeat commenting:
“My confidence is back, today’s match is a good base to achieve my goals. Against Fognini, I played one of the worst matches in 14 years. Today I’ve been competitive and I enjoyed the match. I was competitive until the end, but I’ve lost against a top-level player.”
This confidence appeared to be on full display in Madrid as Nadal eased past promising youngsters Felix Auger Aliassime and Frances Tiafoe in early rounds before truly returning to form in the quarter-finals with a ruthless 6-1 6-2 victory over 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka.
His previous inconsistencies though again reared their ugly heads in his semi-final match up with Stefanos Tsitsipas as Nadal fell to a 6-4 2-6 6-3 defeat.
Despite this setback Nadal has once again been positive of his chances ahead of next month’s French Open where the 32-year-old will be looking to win a record-breaking 12th title commenting:
“I feel good. It’s true that I didn’t win a title, but is true that my feeling is, for example, maybe in 2015 I won Buenos Aires, I think, but the feeling is much better. Sometimes winning a title or not doesn’t make a big difference.”
The Madrid Masters also marked the clay court return of Swiss great Roger Federer, who played his first event on the surface since the Rome Masters in 2016.
Federer’s long awaited return to the surface was cut short at the quarter-final stage, however, as he fell to a hard fought three set defeat to Dominic Thiem.
Despite this Federer can view his clay return as somewhat of a success as he claimed earlier victories against potentially tricky opponents in Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils.