Rafael Nadal will take aim at a third career Madrid Open championship on Sunday at the Magic Box in the Spanish capital.
The king of clay has made a triumphant return to competitive tennis following a seven-month layoff to rest his aching knees. The hiatus knocked Nadal to No. 5 in the ATP world rankings, but he's already in position to win his fifth singles title of the year despite having just returned in February.
The 11-time Grand Slam champion will take on the 15th-ranked and seeded Stanislas Wawrinka in Sunday's final.
Unfortunately, Rafa is bad news for the Swiss finalist, who is 0-8 against the Spanish superstar all time. But, like Novak Djokovic beating Nadal in Monte Carlo last month proved, there's a first time for everything.
Here we'll set the stage for Sunday's much-anticipated men's final in Madrid.
Where: Manzanares Park Tennis Center; Madrid, Spain
When: Sunday, May 12, at 10 a.m. ET
Watch: Tennis Channel
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Nadal Looking to Win Record 23rd Masters 1000 Title
With a win over Stanislas Wawrinka on Sunday, Nadal would have a record 23 Masters 1000 tournament titles to his name.
He is currently tied with Ivan Lendl with 22. Nadal's archrival, Roger Federer, is one back with 21 for his career. Sixteen of Nadal's 22 Masters 1000 final wins have come on clay.
This is the third time in 2013 that Rafa will play for a Masters 1000 title. He won in Indian Wells back in March but then lost to Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo last month.
Obviously Nadal's strength on clay has aided his record number of Masters 1000 wins, but, nevertheless, that impressive mark has to catapult Rafa into the discussion of greatest of all time.
Wawrinka In Unfamiliar Territory
For the first time in five years, 28-year-old Stanislas Wawrinka will suit up for a Masters 1000 final.
great effort this week from Stan the Man and welcome back to top 10, for your door prize you get a shot at the King of clay Rafa in Spain— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) May 11, 2013
Wawrinka was unsuccessful in his last major test at the clay-court Rome Masters in 2008, taking the first set off Novak Djokovic only to drop the last two and lose the match.
Will Stanislas Wawrinka win a set on Sunday?
The good news for Wawrinka fans is that he's won three of his four ATP singles titles on clay, a surface he usually fares well on. However, the last time he met Nadal in a clay-court tournament final was in Stuttgart in 2007; Nadal won in straight sets.
Few things are guarantees in sports, but Nadal on clay is no doubt the closest thing there is to a lock.
It's safe to say that Wawrinka will be a huge underdog on Sunday afternoon in Madrid. But, win or lose, he can take solace in the fact that he reached the final of a tournament that saw heavyweights Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray all get knocked before the semifinal stage.
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