The king of clay might have won the Mutua Madrid Open 2014 but people’s hearts were won by the Japanese Kei Nishikori, whose injury forced Rafa to get away with the Madrid crown. The Japanese is improving by leaps and bounds and yesterday, he broke into the top 10 of the Emirates ATP rankings. Rafa’s victory at Madrid was his 27th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title and fourth in the Spanish capital after 2005, 2010 and 2013. It was Rafa’s third title this season after the ATP 250 event at 2014 Qatar ExxonMobil Open in January and  the ATP 500 inaugural tournament at Rio de Janeiro in February. Despite these victories, Rafa’s 2014 performance, especially on clay, has been listless. He began the current clay season with a defeat against compatriot David Ferrer at Monte Carlo Masters and in Barcelona Open, he lost the quarterfinals to another compatriot Nicolas Almagro. The women’s singles trophy at Madrid was claimed by Russian Maria Sharapova, who staged a marvelous recovery after an extremely poor start and defeated Romania’s Simona Halep 1-6, 6-2, 6-3. Sharapova, who also won the Stuttgart Open, two weeks ago, extended her winning streak on clay to 11 matches.

Maria Sharapova For nearly 10 years now, people have been accustomed to watching Rafa making short work of his opponents on clay. They were all in for a big surprise on Sunday’s final at Caja Magica, where Nishikori crafted impossible shots that left Rafa stranded at times. As long as the Japanese lasted on the court, he played some flash-like backhands and complimented these shots with impossible looking run-around forehands winners. Coming to the final, Nishikori had beaten another Spaniard David Ferrer on Saturday night in a grueling semifinal that lasted close to three hours and could only be completed after 10 match points with the final score of 7-6, 5-7, 6-3. The strains of that match could have led to Nishikori’s back spasms, when he retired midway in the final. The match began with Nishikori winning the first set in no time against the defending champion and building a 4-2 lead in the second set. The king of clay had little idea about Nishikori’s brain game as the Japanese was either hitting winners or wrong-footing the world no. 1. Just when the match was firmly under Nishikori’s control, he suddenly developed spasms in his back. This stopped him in his tracks and while still in pain, he allowed Rafa to win seven straight games. When he could no longer continue, he retired from the court in the third set. But as long as Nishikori played, he adopted a baseline dominance strategy, in order to gain a better topography of the court for attacking Rafa. The Japanese could find an improved depth to his shots and yielded less time to Rafa to be prepared. In the second set, when Nishikori led 3-2, his forehand shots were delivered at 80 mph, whereas Rafa could only touch 71 mph. It would have been difficult for the world’s best tennis player to win the tournament if Nishikori had not been troubled by his back injury.

The women’s singles trophy was won by Maria Sharapova, who arrived in Madrid as last year’s runner-up. After winning the Stuttgart Open a fortnight ago, Sharapova had to deal with a tough opponent in Madrid. The Romanian Simona Halep is now a vastly improved player and she showed her talent in the final against Sharapova. In less than half an hour, Halep showed Sharapova her true worth in taking the first set 6-1. The dispirited Sharapova talked to her coach Sven Groeneveld before beginning the second set. Some resolve on her part turned the momentum in her favor as she regained her confidence. She managed to level the set score 1-1, after easily winning 6-2. The newly discovered tempo continued as Sharapova finally wrapped up the match 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 to record her first victory at Madrid. In winning her 31st career trophy, Sharapova improved her WTA ranking to 7 on Monday. Of the last 10 titles that Sharapova has won, 8 have come on the clay courts.

In the men’s doubles, world no. 3 Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic defeated the celebrated Bryan brothers in the final. The title match was not as closely fought as expected and Nestor and Zimonjic cruised to an easy 6-4, 6-2 win over the five-time Mutua Madrid Open champions. Italians, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won the women’s doubles title by defeating Spaniards Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4, 6-3. Errani and Vinci did not have an easy passage to the final but they combined well in the title game and their self-belief was instrumental in the victory.