Tennis fans were treated to an exciting clay-court tournament at the Jockey Club Brasileiro from the amazing city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
This competition did not draw an elite field, especially for the women's side, but there certainly was enough talent to make it interesting.
That started at the top with world No. 1 Rafael Nadal looking to flash his clay mastery over his peers and, in many cases, his countrymen. Nadal wound up winning the final over upstart underdog Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 7-6 (3) on Sunday.
Fellow Spaniard and world No. 4 David Ferrer was the next-highest-ranked man in this field, and the Spanish infusion can be felt throughout. Nadal had eight countrymen in his half of the draw, and while Ferrer fell to Dolgopolov in the semifinals, the eventual champion fought a tense third-set, 12-10 tiebreaker at that stage to beat compatriot and eighth seed Pablo Andujar.
Nadal, as suggested from this quote via ATPWorldTour.com, appeared happy to have the new Brazil event on his schedule prior to taking the court:
I am looking forward to playing for the first time ever in Rio de Janeiro. I have heard so much about the city, and now I will finally have the opportunity to be there. All around the world, when I play, I can feel the love of the Brazilian people.
Since Nadal can feel the love of the Brazilians when he plays in places as far away as Australia or London, he could have been too overwhelmed with emotion to carry out his matches while playing in front of what will presumably be a predominant Brazilian crowd. If he was, it didn't show as he took home yet another singles title.
Nadal weathered his emotions just fine and gave the crowds a worthy show.
Check out this wonderful view passed along from the Rafaholics Twitter account, which created an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for this tournament as spectators witnessed one of the best tennis players ever at the top of his game:
Center Court at the Rio Open is beautiful! love the mountain view! pic.twitter.com/pzTRsSEsm3— Rafaholics™ (@Rafaholics) February 15, 2014
This continues Nadal's reign atop tennis' summit. The Rio Open 500 was just a couple of weeks away from Carnival and for a country just a few months away for the World Cup, all that was left was for the tennis savants to strut their stuff.
No. 1 Rafael Nadal defeated Alexandr Dolgopolov, 6-3, 7-6 (3)
The King of Clay was at it again on Sunday, as Rafael Nadal cruised in the first set before fending off Alexandr Dolgopolov's valiant effort in the second set, winning in a tiebreaker for a victorious score of 6-3, 7-6 (3).
Nadal benefited from a poor serving showcase by Dolgopolov, as the unseeded finalist hit just 45 percent of his first serves in. That took him out of rhythm and eventually saw Nadal capitalize on his only break opportunity of the first set and position himself to win.
Tennis.com's Jonathan Scott observed how Dolgopolov extended the match, breaking Nadal in the second set at 4-5 to help set up the tiebreaker:
Nadal was broken serving for it at 6-3, 5-4, but holds on for a 7-6 win in 2nd set over Dolgopolov in Rio Open final, his 2nd title in 2014.— Jonathan Scott (@jonscott9) February 23, 2014
Unfortunately for the outmatched Ukrainian, it wasn't quite enough in the end, as he couldn't take advantage of the extra points and push Nadal to a third set.
This was the first official tournament Nadal had played in since losing the Australian Open final, and was on his preferred surface of clay. As much as that loss in Melbourne had to sting, Nadal helped alleviate that with his second singles title in three events for the young 2014 campaign.
The Spanish superstar continues cementing his status as the best clay-court player ever, and this most recent triumph indicates he's going to be the prohibitive favorite yet again at the French Open. As long as he maintains this form and stays healthy, nothing should stop Nadal from another trophy at Roland Garros.
But there are a few months of tennis to be played between now and then. Nadal just has to be wise with his schedule and pace himself properly ahead of the year's second Grand Slam event. Now that he's fortified his lead over Novak Djokovic atop the ATP rankings, there shouldn't be incentive for Nadal to increase his tournament workload, though this new stop on his schedule was a fruitful one indeed.
No. 1 Rafael Nadal defeats No. 8 Pablo Andujar, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (12-10)
Alexandr Dolgopolov defeats No. 2 David Ferrer, 6-4, 6-4
The semifinals in Brazil featured plenty of drama and a major upset, as Alexandr Dolgopolov knocked off second seed David Ferrer in straight sets. Extraordinary returning and an aggressive strategy paid off for Dolgopolov. He hit 32 winners, while Ferrer hit 71 percent of his first serves in but won only 55 percent of those points.
For Dolgopolov, the victory sets up a finals showdown with No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who had some surprising difficulties in reaching the precipice of yet another singles title.
Nadal battled Spanish compatriot Pablo Andujar in a thrilling match, dropping the first set 6-2 before bouncing back to win the next one 6-3. Then the third set went to a tiebreaker, with Nadal staving off a shocking upset by emerging with a 12-10 triumph.
With 76 percent of his first serves hit in play, the underdog Andujar was able to hang with Nadal and continue to apply the pressure. However, it wasn't enough to knock off one of the all-time greats, but Andujar can take some solace in the fact that he won more total points (108) than his superstar opponent (106).
No. 8 Pablo Andujar defeats No. 4 Tommy Robredo, 6-1, 6-1
No. 2 David Ferrer defeats Thomaz Bellucci, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3
No. 1 Rafael Nadal defeats Joao Sousa, 6-1, 6-0
Alexandr Dolgopolov defeats No. 3 Fabio Fognini, 6-1, 6-1
Day 5 in Rio featured a few interesting matchups.
In an expected conclusion to the late contest of the day, Rafael Nadal continued to put his clay dominance on display, defeating Joao Sousa in two sets. Souse was only able to take one game from the world's No. 1 player, as Nadal made quick work of the man from Portugal.
David Ferrer continued his winning ways; however, he was put to the test early, as Tomaz Bellucci took the first set. Ferrer did a nice job rebounding and closed out the match with two-consecutive 6-3 sets. Getting off to a better start will be imperative for Ferrer the rest of the way.
Tommy Robredo and Fabio Fognini did not share the same fate as the other two match favorites.
Robredo and Fognini were easily handled by Pablo Andujar and Alexandr Dolgopolov, respectively. Each favorite was unable to get anything going from the start, as both fell by scores of 6-1, 6-1.
This outcome may have been expected from Fognini, as he was barely able to defeat Pablo Cuevas just one round prior.
However, Robredo has been cruising along lately. It just goes to show that anything can happen on any given day in Rio.
No. 1 Rafael Nadal defeats Albert Montanes, 6-1, 6-2
Alexandr Dolgopolov defeats Facundo Bagnis, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6
Fabio Fognini defeats Pablo Cuevas, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3
Joao Sousa defeats Albert Ramos, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3
Rafael Nadal's second-round matchup went far smoother than the first, as he made incredibly quick work of Albert Montanes. As ATP World Tour on Twitter pointed out, the victory improves the Spaniard's impressive record vs. countrymen:
The World No. 1, who is nursing a back injury, broke Montane four times, won 60 percent of the points and took just under 75 minutes to advance to the quarterfinals, where he'll face Joao Sousa.
Nadal and Sousa met last year at the Brasil Open, with the underdog holding serve fairly well (only two breaks for Nadal) but still falling in straight sets.
Fellow favorites Alexandr Dolgopolov and Fabio Fognini didn't have quite as much of a cakewalk.
Dolgopolov, who defeated tournament No. 5 seed Nicolas Almagro in the first round, dropped the first set to qualifier Facundo Bagnis but bounced back and was broken just twice over the final two.
He'll face Fognini, who is still in line to make a third final in a row after defeating Pablo Cuevas in three sets. The red-hot Italian is just 1-2 against Dolgopolov in his career, but the last head-to-head battle came in 2012.
Alexandr Dolgopolov defeats No. 5 Nicolas Almagro, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0
No. 4 Tommy Robredo defeats Pablo Carreno Busta, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
No. 8 Pablo Andujar defeats Julian Reister, 6-4, 6-3.
Joao Sousa defeats No. 6 Marcel Granollers
Albert Ramos defeats Leonardo Mayer, 6-2, 6-0
No. 2 David Ferrer defeats Jeremy Chardy, 6-2, 6-3
No. 1 Rafael Nadal defeats Daniel Gimeno-Traver, 6-3, 6-5
Albert Montanes defeats Robin Hasse, 6-1, 7-6 (4)
No. 3 Fabio Fognini defeats Aljaz Bedene, 7-6 (5), 0-6, 6-1
No. 7 Juan Monaco defeats Horacio Zeballos, 6-3, 6-1
Pablo Cuevas defeats Alejandro Gonzalez, 6-7 (0), 6-1, 6-3
The first round continued with an upset on Day 3, as No. 5 seed Nicolas Almagro fell at the hands of Alexandr Dolgopolov that last about 1.5 hours. The star from Ukraine hit nine aces to defeat Almagro for the first time in their third head-to-head clay encounter.
The upsets did not end there. Joao Sousa pf Portugal saved four match points to take down No. 6 seed Marcel Granollers in a match that lasted well over two hours.
No. 8 seed Pablo Andujar easily moved past Julian Reister, as did No. 7 Juan Monaco past Horacio Zeballos in a lopsided affair. Even No. 3 Fabio Fognini was in danger at one point, but survived an early barrage to down Aljaz Bedene. No. 4 Tommy Robredo and No. 2 David Ferrer had easy matches to advance, too.
The highlight match of the night pitted No. 1 Rafael Nadal against Daniel Gimeno-Traver. One may have expected rust from Nadal in what was his return from a back injury suffered in Australia, but he showed no signs of pain and came away with a convincing win to end the day.
Thomaz Bellucci defeats Santiago Giraldo, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3
Federico Delbonis defeats Guilherme Clezar, 6-1, 6-1
Martin Klizan defeats Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6
Facundo Bagnis defeats Joao Souza, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2
Dusan Lajovic defeats Filippo Volandri, 6-7(7), 6-3, 4-0
The opening round of the inaugural Rio Open continued with hometown hero Thomaz Bellucci rallying back to upend No. 60 Santiago Giraldo. The match lasted well over two hours as Bellucci broke Giraldo five times en route to the victory.
That was the end of the hopes for the crowd favorites on the day.
Next up was Guilherme Clezar, who was brutalized in less than an hour by Federico Delbonis in the ugliest match of the day.
Luckily, the best match of the day followed shortly after. The bout between Martin Klizan of Slovakia and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain lasted just under three hours before Klizan emerged victorious.
The rest of the day was rather quiet from the field that lacked any kind of star power. Facundo Bagnis moved past Joao Souza, while Dusan Lajovic got the victory after Filippo Volandri had to retire after a shoulder injury.
On Day 1, the men filled the courts with competitive matches. All four of the day's matches went a full three sets and/or played a tiebreaker.
The women's side was the polar opposite, as no match went three sets or had a tiebreaker.
The top players were not in action on Monday, but there was still some excellent tennis being played. Here are the day's results.
Dusan Lajovic defeats Rogerio Dutra Silva, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-1
Martin Klizan defeats Martin Alund, 6-4, 7-6 (5)
Aljaz Bedene defeats Diego Sebastian Schwartzman, 7-6 (5), 6-1
Facundo Bagnis defeats Stephane Robert, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3
*Results via ATPWorldTour.com.
Kiki Bertens defeats Danka Kovinic, 7-5, 6-0
Nastassja Burnett defeats Maria Teresa Torro, 7-5, 6-4
Alison Van Uytvanck defeats Johanna Larsson, 6-4, 6-3
Silvia Soler Espinosa defeats Laura Pigossi, 6-0, 6-1
*Results via WTATennis.com.
Most of the excitement occurred on the men's side, with two men's matches going the distance and providing plenty of drama.
Dusan Lajovic used a strong first serve and clutch play to propel him to victory over Rogerio Dutra Silva. Lajovic hit 57 percent of his first serves and eight aces, establishing control of the momentum and taking advantage of his opportunities. Still, it was his ability to convert break opportunities that really led him to the victory.
He faced 11 break points and saved eight of them. Meanwhile, he won six of his 13 break opportunities. He'll need to continue converting with success as the tournament moves on
In the day's other three-set affair, Stephane Robert will be kicking himself over missed opportunities. He hit just 48 percent of his first serves for the match, and he was able to win just two of his seven break points.
As a result, Facundo Bagnis was able to overcome an underwhelming first set to take command the rest of the way, though a large part of that was due to the lack of execution on Robert's part.
*Stats via ATPWorldTour.com.