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Federer Ends Title Drought In Style

Madrid, Spain

Nadal, Federer© AFP/Getty Images

ATP World Tour No. 2 Roger Federer ended his title drought in style on Sunday with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over rival and reigning ATP World Tour Champion Rafael Nadal in the final of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open, an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tennis tournament.

Four-time former Barclays ATP World Tour Finals Champion Federer earned 1000 South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings points towards his bid to qualify for the season finale for a seventh time, while Nadal – who is virtually assured of his participation at the O2 Arena in London - received 600 points and €270,000.

The 27-year-old Federer clinched his first ATP World Tour title since winning his hometown title in Basel (d. Nalbandian) in October 2008. The Swiss was contesting his 80th tour-level final and improved to a 58-22 lifetime mark after capturing his 15th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy. Andre Agassi holds the all-time record with 17 of the coveted shields, while Nadal is tied with Federer on 15.

Federer will now turn his attention to winning a first Roland Garros title and believes the confidence from this win will give him an advantage going into the clay-court Grand Slam: “I am very happy that I remained positive and I got the win I needed badly because I have had some rather bad losses this year in terms of the way I played but I think that everything is falling into place and I felt it coming the last few weeks so it is the right time to get a victory like this.”

Federer was contesting his second tour-level final of the season after finishing runner-up to Nadal in an epic Australian Open final, a loss that denied Federer the chance to equal Pete Sampras’ all-time record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles. The newly-married Federer, who is expecting his first child with wife Mirka Vavrinec in the coming weeks, also reached the semi-finals at Doha (l. to Murray) and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells (l. to Murray), Miami (l. to Djokovic) and Rome (l. to Djokovic).

The victory over ATP World Tour No. 1 Nadal marked Federer’s first success against a Top 4 player since defeating No. 3 Novak Djokovic in the US Open semi-finals last August.

“In other years it didn´t matter whether I won or lost, I was always one of the top two or favourites," said Federer. "This year it looked like other guys might come moving up but I always knew that I was going to get stronger week by week on clay.

“It´s not the moment to get carried away but it is definitely good for my confidence, especially beating Rafa in the final so it definitely proves that I am doing the right things and I am working extremely hard and it is paying off so it´s a nice feeling. I am very excited about going to Paris, whereas a couple of weeks ago I was still a little bit unsure about my game and not sure if I could win the French Open.”

Early in the match, Nadal showed no ill-effects from his gripping semi-final with Novak Djokovic – which lasted four hours and three minutes and saw the Spaniard save three match points - as he created a break point in Federer’s first service game courtesy of a couple of wayward forehands from the Swiss.

Federer was able to alleviate the danger on that occasion, and later in the seventh game when Nadal had a second break point chance, before turning the tables on the left-hander as he broke him in the ninth game at his first opportunity. The Bottmingen resident then confidently closed out the set with a love service game, a backhand into the net from Nadal handing the Swiss three set points, and Federer secured the one-set lead with an unreturnable serve.

With the prospect of becoming the first man to defeat Nadal on clay in over a year and the chance to stem a five-match losing streak against his rival, Federer kept his focus in the second set and capitalised on Nadal’s ever-increasing fatigue with a drop shot that the Spaniard could not chase down in the fifth game to earn a break point, which he converted as Nadal fired a forehand long.

As Federer continued to raise his level, Nadal fought hard to stay within touching distance of the Swiss and forced Federer to serve for the victory at 5-4. A forehand winner from the Spaniard, yearning to win his second title in Madrid (also 2005), gave him a 15-30 lead and as cries of “Rafa, Rafa, Rafa” echoed round Manolo Santana court, Federer’s forehand found the net to present the Mallorcan with a lifeline in the form of two break-back points.

Undeterred, 2006 Madrid champion Federer played strongly on the break points, forcing Nadal to go for an extra shot and reaping the rewards as the Spaniard made two backhand errors. Federer was denied on his first match point, born from a second-serve ace, as he netted the volley from Nadal’s dipping return. A strong forehand in the ensuing point forced Nadal out wide and his return shot into the net granted Federer a second chance to clinch victory, which he converted with his sixth ace of the match after one hour and 26 minutes.

“I thought I played really well, I think you have to against Rafa on clay, there are no easy ways there,” said Federer. “He is not going to hand it to you and that is what has made him so tough the last few years on this surface. I thought I mixed it up well; I served well and was dangerous on particular return games. I thought I took all the right decisions today and in the end it looked pretty comfortable so it was a perfect win for me.”

Despite a marathon semi-final with Djokovic, Nadal refused to blame his exertions on Saturday evening for the loss: “I never tend to use an excuse and if I’m tired it’s because I played longer than I should have yesterday and today I played less, that’s the way that sport works. The court was very, very fast. When you are lacking that spark, if you’re able to get into the game you can slowly get back and recover but he used his tactic. He went forth from the very beginning and he was better. That’s all there is to it.

“On any court Federer is tough and the conditions here are more favourable for him and if you’re not at a 100%, it’s very difficult to beat him and I think he deserved to win much more than I did today.”

It was Federer’s second victory over Nadal on clay and closed the gap in their head-to-head standings to 13-7 in Nadal’s favour. Federer’s previous clay-court victory over Nadal came in the 2007 Hamburg final, ending the Spaniard’s record streak of 81 matches unbeaten on clay. He and Gaston Gaudio (three times) are the only players to have defeated Nadal on clay at least twice.

The 22-year-old Nadal saw his current clay-court winning streak end at 33 singles match wins, dating back to his second-round loss to Juan Carlos Ferrero at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Rome on 7 May, 2008.

The Manacor native was bidding to become the first man to win all three clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles in the same season and earn his fourth Masters 1000 title of the year (also won four in 2005) after triumphing at Indian Wells (d. Murray), Monte-Carlo (d. Djokovic) and Rome (d. Djokovic).

Nadal was contesting his seventh tour-level final of the season in his eighth tournament this year. Together with his three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 victories, he captured his sixth Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open (d. Federer) and won his fifth successive title in Barcelona (d. Ferrer); he finished runner-up to Andy Murray in Rotterdam. The Spaniard dropped to an ATP World Tour-best 41-4 match record (19-1 on clay, 42-4 in sets).

 

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