Rafael Nadal has dealt with enough setbacks in his career to know how to handle them, and his recent clay slump is no different. The Spaniard is pushing forward while trying not to let things get to him.
Usually this time of the year Rafael Nadal is talking about how his game is peaking ahead of the French Open. The discussion is typically about how many title-winning streaks he has extended and which records he has broken as the clay season moves toward its climax at Roland Garros.
Not this time, though.
Things are different for Nadal in 2019, and he is in an unfamiliar position after a series of disappointing results on his favorite surface.
Instead of celebrating titles and records, Nadal is having to explain why he has struggled to win matches.
“Tennis is about winning or losing. I’ve won a lot over the years on this surface, but this year it hasn’t been the case. I’ve been really close, but I haven’t been able to win,” Nadal said Saturday after losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Madrid Open for his third straight semifinal elimination on clay this season.
He had already failed to reach the final in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, tournaments he had won the last three consecutive seasons. It was an uncharacteristic streak of poor results for the Spaniard, who hadn’t arrived in Madrid without a title since 2004.
Still, Nadal wasn’t dwelling on it too much.
“You just have to accept it and I have to accept it naturally. But to accept things does not mean to try to change things,” he said. “During all my life, I think I have taken the victories very naturally and with a lot of normality. With the losses I’ll do the same. It will be normal and I’m going to accept it naturally.”
Nadal lost to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo and Dominic Thiem in Barcelona, and the defeat to the up-and-coming Tsitsipas in Madrid came after a quarterfinal win over Stan Wawrinka that Nadal called his best match on clay this season. He couldn’t keep up with the aggressive game of the ninth-ranked Greek on Saturday, though, losing the decisive points to again fail to advance past the last four.
Nadal said not making it to tournament finals as often as he did in the past shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise.
“It’s more normal what is happening right now than what happened in the last 14 years,” he said. “I think I have tennis ahead of me. I have time ahead of me. I’ll be able to try to win these tournaments that I was not able to win this year. And what I have to do is to stay fit and to keep playing at a high level.”
Nadal has won a clay-court title in each of the last 15 seasons and remains the tour’s most successful player on the surface. He next plays in Rome, where he is the defending champion, then will try to win a record-extending 12th French Open title in June.
Nadal said it was impossible to know what the current setbacks could mean for his future.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Hopefully, I will accept this defeat properly and we will see what happens week after week, day after day. I’ll try to work in a proper way, in a proper manner, with a proper attitude and then just believe in my possibilities and believe that things will work out and they will click.
“I’ll keep trying until I can to keep playing at a high level,” Nadal said. “And If I can keep doing that, I will continue to have chances. If not, then that’s it. There’s no need to make any drama or overthink when things are going bad. It is a sport and in a sport it’s a matter of winning and sometimes losing and accepting both as naturally as possible.”
Novak Djokovic Beats Stefanos Tsitsipas For Madrid Open Title
Novak Djokovic celebrated a lot more than a record-tying 33rd Masters 1000 title at the Madrid Open.
Djokovic left the Spanish capital feeling pretty good about his game, too, carrying a lot of confidence into the rest of the clay-court season.
The top-ranked Djokovic earned a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday to join Nadal as the most successful players in Masters 1000 tournaments, moving five ahead of Roger Federer, who is third in the all-time list.
It was Djokovic’s second title of the season, adding to his triumph in the Australian Open.
“I feel like this tournament win was very important for my level of confidence because after the Australian Open I wasn’t playing my best, I wasn’t finding the right game and the consistency on the court in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo,” Djokovic said. ”(It’s a) very important time for me in the season, because this gives me a lot of confidence prior to Rome and, of course, Roland Garros, where I definitely want to play my best.”
Djokovic will be seeking his second French Open title in June. He now has three Madrid Open trophies, adding to the ones he won in 2011 and 2016.
“These are the best tournaments, biggest tournaments we have in our sport, in the ATP, of course alongside the Grand Slams,” Djokovic said. “This is as important and as good as it gets.”
Djokovic was in control from the start against his 20-year-old Greek opponent, who had defeated Nadal in the Madrid semifinals and was trying to become the first player to win three tour titles this season.
The Serb broke Tsitsipas early in the first set and late in the second to comfortably close out the match at the Magic Box center court, securing his 14th clay title — and 74th overall — without dropping a set.
The eighth-seeded Tsitsipas, the tour’s winningest player in 2019 with 27 victories, lacked the intensity and aggressiveness that he showed against second-ranked Nadal and was overpowered by Djokovic. He had beaten Djokovic in Toronto last year in the first meeting between the two players.
“He deserved the victory, he played unbelievable. I couldn’t do much,” Tsitsipas said. “Physically I was not there. My legs were not coping with my mind. Completely I could feel the fatigue and this soreness, not just in my legs, but everywhere in my body. I had a tough match last night, so he took advantage of that. I just didn’t have solutions.”
Djokovic didn’t concede a break point on Sunday, earning a crucial one for himself at 4-4 in the second set by returning Tsitsipas’ overhead shot with a backhand winner down the line. He then served out to win the match.
The 31-year-old Djokovic, who now has 200 wins against top 10 opponents, had struggled after winning the Australian Open, with his best result since then having been a quarterfinal appearance in Monte Carlo at the start of the clay-court season.
He was coming off another confidence-boosting win over an in-form Dominic Thiem to make it to the final in Madrid.
Tsitsipas, who will reach a career-high No. 7 ranking this week, won titles in Estoril and Marseille, and reached the final in Dubai, where he lost to Federer. He was beaten by Nadal in the Australian Open semifinals for his best-ever showing in a Grand Slam. The Toronto final, when he lost to Nadal, was his first in a Masters 1000 event.
In the doubles final, Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau defeated Thiem and Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-3 for their second Madrid Open title, adding to their 2016 victory.
Kiki Bertens won the women’s title on Saturday.