Nadal Storms To 75th Career Title In Beijing
If Rafael Nadal is to finish as the year-end No. 1 for a fourth time, his recent performances on hard courts will be of critical importance.
Nadal extended his win streak to 12 straight with the China Open title on Sunday, defeating Nick Kyrgios 6-2, 6-1. The Spaniard, who remains undefeated since returning to World No. 1 on 21 August, tightened his grip on the top spot in the Emirates ATP Race To London. Now up to 2,360 points over Roger Federer, he has put himself in prime position to cap his 2017 campaign in No. 1 fashion.
Victory in Beijing gives Nadal his 75th career crown, moving to within two titles of John McEnroe for fourth on the Open Era list. It was his second triumph in the Chinese capital, having previously defeated Guillermo Coria for the 2005 trophy.
"It is an important title for me," said Nadal. "The last year that I had the trophy with me was in 2005... It is completely different. I don't even remember that one. The feeling is probably better this year.
"First thing, the tournament is bigger than in 2005. It's a 500 event. Before it was 250. Every title later in your career is more special than when you were younger. I had very tough draw here. When I saw the draw at the beginning of the tournament, I knew that it will be very, very difficult to have good chances here. But I was lucky the first day saving the two match points. After that, I think I played one of the best events of the year, playing very solid the whole week and playing against very tough opponents."
The Manacor native, who notched his 60th match win of the season with a semi-final victory over Grigor Dimitrov, added a sixth title this year. He previously emerged victorious at the US Open one month ago, in addition to wins at Roland Garros, the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Monte-Carlo and Madrid, as well as in Barcelona.
Top seed Nadal was a force from the back of the court throughout the one-hour and 32-minute encounter. He saved 22 of 25 break points entering Sunday's clash and would deny all four faced against the Aussie. Kyrgios would strike 20 winners, but was unable to overcome 35 unforced errors.
Nadal was on the attack early and often, earning break chances in six of Kyrgios' seven service games. The 22 year old would be forced to turn aside five break points to open the match, as Nadal struck a pair of sublime drop shot winners to send an early message.
The first break came at 3-2 when Kyrgios netted a drop shot of his own and consecutive double faults would give Nadal the opening set. The Aussie struggled to maintain a high first serve percentage and it proved to be a critical factor. Nadal would break twice more in the second set and eventually converted his first match point after 92 minutes.
"Very long games at the beginning and a good level of tennis," Nadal added. "I think after 30 minutes we were only 2-1. Very intense everything. I played, in my opinion, a great level of tennis tonight. Of course, I think one of the best matches of the year. He is always very tough opponent to play against. But today, I think my serve worked well, and I was returning a lot of balls, putting a lot of balls inside, then taking the advantage from the baseline a little bit more often than him. I was a little bit more aggressive and that was the key."
Kyrgios entered the encounter on the heels of a 6-2, 7-5 win over Nadal at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, leveling their FedEx ATP Head2Head at 2-2. But Nadal, who had defeated the World No. 19 on the clay of Madrid earlier this year, would get his revenge on Sunday.
The Spaniard's victory marks the 12th time a player has won an ATP World Tour title after saving match point(s) this year. He had denied two against Lucas Pouille in a first-round thriller.
Kyrgios, meanwhile, was appearing in his second final of the season, having fallen to Dimitrov at the Western & Southern Open in August. One year removed from his last victory in Tokyo, he is now 3-3 in ATP World Tour title matches. He takes home $319,825 in prize money and is in the hunt for a first appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals, moving to 15th position in the Emirates ATP Race To London.
"He played well. I played terrible. He's in great form. He just destroyed me today, so it was too good," said Kyrgios. "I put in a pretty good week, had some good wins. It's tough to find positives when you won three games in the final. But I guess there were positives. In the semi-final I played well, obviously beating Alex [Zverev]."