Rafael Nadal has been untouchable in recent times. PHOTO: Rob Foldy/Getty Images/AFP
The Italian Open started on Sunday but the focus was still on Madrid Mutual in which the final match pitted the finalists in Barcelona a week earlier. All hope of a change of guard was dashed, as Rafael Nadal defeated Austria’s Dominic Thiem 7/6 (8); 6/4 for his fifth title in the Iberian Capital City. It was a victory that added lines to the record books.
Thiem had played his semi-final match against Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas late in the night but there was no sign of fatigue as he came out swinging to claim the first break and lead 3-2 in the first set. Ever dangerous in the counter-punch, however, Nadal promptly retaliated to level three-all. Each player held his own service game as Thiem served to stay in the set with games at 4-5. The Austrian fell behind 0-40 but fought back to level and proceeded to win the ninth game with a ripping ace down the middle. The set went into a tiebreak and Nadal won by 10 points to eight. The match clock revealed duration of one hour and 18 minutes.
Thiem lost his serve to give the opening game to Nadal, who consolidated and had a 3-1 lead. Thiem won the fifth game while Nadal held serve to lead 4-2. The seventh game was dragged to deuce but Thiem held. Nadal took the eighth game easily, dropping but one point. Thiem had to hold serve to save the set. He faced two match points at 15-40 and 30-40 but saved both and won the game on his first opportunity.
Serving for the match, Nadal fell behind 15-40, with points played on long rallies. He battled to deuce and then the drama commenced.
Thiem took the advantage twice but could not seal the game. Nadal also failed to hold to the first advantage but held on to the second to win the game set and match, over a period of two hours and 18 minutes.
Nadal’s victory elicited data from the record books. Nadal had won his 15th straight match on clay this season. En route to the final, his 6/2; 6/4 win over Novak Djokovic was the first since the Serbian lost to Nadal in the final of the 2014 French Open. It was Nadal’s 24th win over Djokovic in 50 career meetings. It also ended a seven-match losing streak over a period of three years. Nadal also tied Novak Djokovic in winning 30 ATP Tour Masters 1000 series.
The Italian Open was first played in 1930. It is the last major tournament leading to the Grand Slam on clay at Roland Garros, Paris. As the show in Rome progresses this week, the question is: can Nadal be stopped?