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Nadal Captures Cincinnati Crown

Cincinnati, U.S.A.

Rafael Nadal’s resurgent 2013 campaign continued on Sunday with a 7-6(8), 7-6(3) victory over John Isner to clinch his maiden Western & Southern Open title. Nadal claimed a 26th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title and 59th overall.

Nadal extended his career-best hard court winning streak to 15-0 in 2013, while joining Novak Djokovic as the only players to win five Masters 1000 crowns in a single year. After hoisting the trophy in Montreal last week, this marks the first time Nadal has won back-to-back hard court titles in consecutive weeks. The Mallorcan is 53-3 overall this season, including nine titles.

By becoming the second Spaniard to win in Cincinnati (Moya in 2002), Nadal receives $583,800 in prize money and 1000 Emirates ATP Ranking points. The result means that he will return to World No. 2 on Monday. Isner, who is now 2-2 in finals this year, picked up $286,240 and 600 points.

With Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray losing in the quarter-finals, Nadal further strengthened his claim to year-end World No. 1.

"It means a lot, being able to win two straight titles, two Masters 1000 on hard back to back is just amazing for me," Nadal said, reflecting on his accomplishment. "I never did something like this in all my career. So it was an emotional moment for so many different facts. First of all, I won a very important tournament, Masters 1000. Second thing, after all the problems that I had, I mean, it was just two weeks in a row on hard playing at the highest level. Then the ranking is there. I was playing for a lot of points this week. And I'm in a good position."

Both players cruised on serve in the first set until 6-5 when Isner forced two set points at 15/40. Nadal would escape behind clutch serving, firing two consecutive aces to set up game point. The Spaniard would hold and go on to crack Isner’s impressive 32-12 tie-break record in 2013, winning an eventual tie-break on his second set point. 

The second set progressed much like the first, with both players mired in a serving stalemate until a deciding tie-break. Nadal staved off a break point at 3-3 30/40 with a beautiful drop volley off a dipping defensive slice from Isner (see Hot Shot below). Nadal would earn an immediate mini-break for a 2-0 lead and never looked back, converting on his first match point with a looping forehand passing shot.

Despite the loss, Isner often found success in mixing up his serve direction, using his kicker out wide to pull Nadal off the court. Nadal gained traction in the return game as the match wore on, but nonetheless failed to garner a break point. The 6’10” American was unable to dent Nadal’s serve, however, winning just 20% of his return points.

Isner took solace in defeat. “I played extremely well all week. Thought I played well again today. Unfortunately, it just wasn't good enough. As I said on the court, [I'm] going to hold my head up high after today's match and after this whole week. But Rafa was better than me today.”

Isner, who returns to the Top 20 with his run to the final, entered today having registered three consecutive Top 10 victories, defeating Milos Raonic and Djokovic before scoring a valiant comeback against Juan Martin del Potro. It was the 6’10” American’s second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final, with a runner-up finish in Indian Wells last year. Isner continues his Emirates Airline US Open Series this week at the Winston-Salem Open, where he will look to three-peat.

This was the first meeting between the Spaniard and the American since the first round at Roland Garros in 2011, when Isner pushed Nadal to the brink, the first time Nadal had been taken to five sets there.

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© Kate Whitney Lucey

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