Madrid Flashback: Rafael Nadal overcomes scare and beats injured Kei Nishikori

Rafael Nadal claimed six ATP titles on clay in 2013, including back-to-back ones in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Things did not work that well for the Spaniard on his beloved surface a year later. He suffered the quarter-final losses in Monte Carlo and Barcelona to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro and wished to bounce back in Madrid. Rafa played well against Juan Monaco, Jarkko Nieminen, Tomas Berdych and Roberto Bautista Agut to advance into the fifth final from six editions at Caja Magica. Rafa faced Kei Nishikori in the title clash, and the aggressive Japanese had the strings of the encounter in his hands. Kei needed only an hour to forge a 6-2, 3-1 advantage and stand on the verge of the first Masters 1000 title. Still, he suffered a back injury that forced him to retire in the decider and hand the trophy to Rafa!

Nadal scored a 2-6, 6-4, 3-0 win in an hour and 43 minutes to lift the 27th Masters 1000 crown and the fourth in Madrid, nine years after the first one on an indoor hard court. Struggling to match the rival’s pace, Rafa got broken three times in that first part of the encounter, making too many errors and failing to impose his strokes. Still, the Spaniard claimed seven straight games from 4-2 down in the second to improve his numbers against the opponent who was miles from his best. Rafa grabbed three consecutive breaks before Kei retired after taking only one point in the third set. Nishikori had the upper hand in the most extended rallies. Nadal erased that deficit in the shortest and mid-range exchanges, playing better and better after that comeback and celebrating the title against the rival who had nothing left in the tank.

Kei Nishikori retired against Rafael Nadal in the 2014 Madrid final.

Spreading the defending champion over the baseline, Kei earned a break in the encounter’s third game. The Japanese confirmed it with a service winner in the next one and forged a 4-1 advantage with another break following a strong return that Rafa failed to control. Nadal saved a set point at 1-5, but that was all he did, as Nishikori closed the opener with an ace a few minutes later. At the beginning of the second set, Kei secured a break with a forehand winner. He acted as a dominant figure on the court and fended off three break chances in the next one to cement the advantage.

The Japanese held at 15 in game six for a 6-2, 4-2 lead, overpowering the home favorite in every segment and looking good to seal the deal a couple of games later. Still, he started to struggle physically at that moment, asking for a medical timeout after the seventh game for a lower back injury and never winning another game by the end of the match! Rafa pulled the break back in game eight after a sublime defense to gather a boost and held at love to move in front. Kei got broken in game ten after another treatment to hand the set to the crowd’s favorite. Nishikori took only one point in the decider’s first three games and retired after not willing to risk an even more severe injury.