Rafael Nadal was up to his old tricks at the 2017 Mutua Madrid Open. He looked hungry and produced some explosive tennis on centre court. He is playing like the unbeatable Nadal on clay from the last decade. Rejuvenated, enjoying the experience and breathing new life into what were his strengths in another era. The Spaniard is enjoying the fruits of persevering through days of injury and inconsistency.
His reward was a stunning 7-6(8), 6-4 victory over Dominic Thiem to win the Spanish event for the fifth time (2005, 2010, 2013, 2014), and his 30th Masters 1000 to level Novak Djokovic. They are followed by Roger Federer (26), Ivan Lendl (22), John McEnroe (19), Jimmy Connors (17), Andre Agassi (17), Bjorn Borg (15) and Andy Murray (14).
The home player came back from 1-3 down in the first set and saved two set points in the tiebreak (forcing an error from his opponent in the first and connecting with a forehand winner in the second). In the second set he broke Thiem’s first serve, but was unable to convert a match point at 5-3 and, after saving three break points at 5-4, he took his head-to-head with the Austrian to 4-1.
The 30-year-old left-hander is back to his best. For the first time in seven years he has started a season with a record of 15-0 in his first three tournaments on clay. He did so in 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2006. And he has now done so in 2017 close to the age of 31.
Nadal is unbeaten in 15 matches as a result of his titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, where he has won 30 sets out of the 32 played. Seven years ago he won in Monte Carlo, Roma and Madrid, dropping just two sets, just like his current spell. In 2010, he ended up winning the French Open and in 2017 he will arrive in Paris as the favourite given his current form.
Not only is he now leading in total wins this year, with 34, he also replaces Federer in fourth place in the Ranking and takes the lead in the ATP Race to London. Now Roger Federer lies in second and Dominic Thiem is in third having surpassed Stan Wawrinka.
The most significant news is that Nadal has once again proved to his fans that he is far from past his best. “There is nowhere like Spain”, he said during the week. And he rewarded the affection he receives in the Caja Mágica with magnificent tennis, dream shots and the heart of a lion. In fact, he now has a record of 165-22 (88.2%) in all professional competitions played in Spain.