By Reem Abulleil*
I spent a little over a year living in Madrid between 2009 and 2010 which happened to be around the same time the Caja Magica was inaugurated and started hosting the Mutua Madrid Open.
The tournament was actually my first non-grand slam European tennis event to attend and I wasn’t sure what to expect.
It was like a modern take on what a tennis tournament should look like and I found the newness of the whole place quite intriguing.
My most vivid memories are from the 2010 edition where I would make the 20-minute journey from the city centre down to the Caja Mágica any chance I got.
One of the early round matches I attended was a clash between Fernando Verdasco and Ivo Karlovic. I had seen the fanfare surrounding Rafael Nadal the year before but that was the first time I had a front-row seat to watching Verdasco compete in his hometown.
The stadium was not full but there were some Verdasco fanatics in one section of the higher stands who went nuts from the second he stepped on the court.
The fans were dressed up in funny wigs, were carrying an old wooden tennis racquet, and chanted “Vamooo Feeer” continuously for the duration of the match. The stadium roof was open but their voices still echoed through the arena and for a second there I felt like I was at a football match at the Bernabeu not a tennis one at the Caja Magica.
Thankfully Verdasco won, otherwise I’m not sure how those guys would have reacted. My sister and I fittingly commemorated the day by dining at the restaurant owned by Verdasco’s family that night, the words “vamo Fer” still stuck in our heads.
I went on a trip to Valencia for a couple of days after that but returned in time for the Nadal-Federer final – which was a rematch of the title decider from the year before. I thought to myself: How lucky for the tournament to get back-to-back Rafa-Fed finals in its first two years at a new venue?
Nadal had lost to the Swiss in the 2009 final – coming off an epic four-hour tussle with Djokovic the day before. After the Spaniard saved three match points and sealed the win over Djokovic, that scene of Nadal down on his knees with his hands in the air and that little boy – a court invader I presume – mimicking his celebration right next to him, has got to be one of the most iconic moments in the history of the tournament so far.
“Next time I’ll probably take two racquets on the match point and try to hit with both of them,” an extremely frustrated Djokovic said after that semi-final loss to Nadal.
Fast-forward 12 months and Nadal found himself once again entering a final against Federer on the clay of Madrid after getting through a tricky three-setter, this time against Nicolas Almagro.
There are a few things I remember from that 2010 final.
Those were the years where Nadal had finally ditched the capris but well before the short shorts he currently prefers.
Donning white and blue checkered baggy shorts that almost hit the knee, Nadal was looking to add a third straight Masters 1000 crown within a four-week period. His previous wins in Montecarlo and Rome had ended an 11-month title drought following an injury-hit 2009 season.
I recall the sharp-angled forehand passing shot the Mallorcan struck to take the first set of the 2010 final in the Spanish capital, and the drop shot show Federer put on throughout the second. The whole thing ended on a bizarre match point where Federer swung his racquet and completely missed the ball that bounced funny off the line. It was game, set, and Nadal was officially back!
I walked away from the stadium that day certain he would reclaim his Roland Garros crown. Nadal ended up completing a clay clean sweep, winning in Paris and returning to world No1.
*Reem is a Sport360º journalist and member of the ITWA (International Tennis Writers Association)