Two tournaments were running over the last week on the ATP Tour, one in Barcelona and one in Budapest. The respective champions are Rafael Nadal and Lucas Pouille, two players that clinched their titles on Sunday.
For Nadal, his title in Barcelona is another clay-court title for his already incredibly distinguished career. The Spaniard claimed what was his 10th title when you simply count how many times he has won in Barcelona over the years. The title was also the 2nd of his season having won Monte Carlo last week. For a career count, Nadal is now at 71 titles for all surfaces.
“I’m very satisfied,” he said after the Barcelona final. “It’s been an emotional day for me. Playing in front of my crowd and my club and winning a 10th title here is something that’s impossible to even dream of. It’s very special and unique. I played my best match of the tournament this afternoon against probably the toughest opponent in the tournament, so I’m very happy.”
That the person who would know best-called runner-up Dominic Thiem “probably the toughest opponent in the tournament” can’t be taken lightly, because Andy Murray was also in the draw. Thiem scored his first career win over Murray in the Barca semifinals on Saturday, a very nice win for the Austrian that shows that he’s ready to beat some of the big players on clay. However, a more competitive match for the Austrian against Nadal would have been nice as well. Thiem fell 4-6, 1-6 to the Spaniard in the final, a poor showing for a player that looks like the heir apparent when it comes to success on dirt. Despite the loss, on year-to-date rankings, Thiem is now the 4th-best player on tour with Nadal getting close to Roger Federer, a player that remains idle after stellar hard-court results.
“He was hitting to my backhand, and I couldn’t really come out of it,” Thiem claimed after the match. “The next time I play him I have to change something. He didn’t hit many unforced errors and give me any free points. It’s difficult for any player in the world against him.”
Thiem may yet end up in a final in Madrid, Rome, or Paris. However, all roads to any title in a big clay-court event will likely go through Rafael Nadal. The Austrian says that something has to be changed, so we’ll see what adjustments he makes when the two players meet again.
In Budapest, Lucas Pouille won what was just the 2nd title of his young career and first on the clay-court surface. A 250-level event, Budapest was not a well-contested draw, and Pouille did not have to defeat a particularly strong player en route to the title. However, the title may yet help the French player get to the top ten. He is less than 250 points away from 10th-ranked David Goffin, so if Pouille turns in some strong results in the remainder of the clay-court season, then he may yet make it into the upper echelon of men’s tennis before Wimbledon.
“I feel very happy with the way I started the clay season,” Pouille said. “To win here gives me a lot of confidence for the future. It’s been a great week and it was nice to see the French supporters in the crowd… My goal for the next few tournaments is to be at 200 percent of my capacity, so I will do everything I can to be ready.”
Upcoming tennis tournaments this week will be in Munich, Estoril, and Istanbul. Those events make for a trio of 250-level tournaments, and as such there are not many major stars turning out for them, especially with the Madrid Masters right around the corner. However, Estoril will have David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet, two sliding players that need ranking points a bit more desperately than they used to. Munich will have Gael Monfils and Alexander Zverev. Meanwhile, Istanbul will see Canadian Milos Raonic return after a short layoff with injury. If healthy, it’s hard to picture him not making the final in a draw where perhaps Diego Schwartzman is the next-biggest threat.