No. 1-seeded Rafael Nadal continued his impressive run at the Mutua Madrid Open Friday with a virtuoso performance a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 6-seeded Tomas Berdych in a quarterfinal clash.
According to ATP World Tour on Twitter, Nadal continued to be the bane of Berdych's existence by extending his long winning streak over his beleaguered opponent:
Nadal stamped his ticket to the semifinals as he attempts to win the Madrid Open for the second consecutive season. Per Tennis Head Magazine, Nadal will face the winner of the match between Roberto Bautista-Agut and Santiago Giraldo:
Nadal roars into Mutua Madrid Open semis with 6-4 6-2 win over Berdych. Will face either Bautista Agut or Giraldo next.— tennishead (@tennishead) May 9, 2014
While Nadal entered Madrid in questionable form, he seemed to figure some things out over the course of his first two matches in the tournament. Nadal was heavily favored to defeat Berdych because of that as well as his 17-3 career record against the Czech challenger, according to ATPWorldTour.com.
Despite Nadal's long history of success against Berdych there is little doubt that Rafa was expecting a challenge. Nadal steamrolled past Juan Monaco and Jarkko Nieminen in the previous two rounds, but Berdych is an excellent player who often shows flashes of elite play.
Nadal was ultimately happy with his third-round victory over Nieminen prior to the quarterfinal tilt with Berdych, but he admitted that he needed to play better all-around match from start to finish after letting Nieminen creep back into it, per Mike Dawes of Daily Mail.
"At 6-1 and 3-0 I was playing at my best level since Monte Carlo but then I slowed down a bit and made some errors," Nadal said. "I am working on finding my level and performance. Today I did what I had to do but I still need to be more consistent."
Although Nadal had his struggles late against Nieminen, both Monaco and Nieminen wilted early which gave Rafa a ton of confidence and allowed him to get comfortable. That wasn't necessarily the case with Berdych as he and Nadal traded holds of serve in each of the first six games.
The skilled Czech didn't initially seem bothered by Nadal's prowess on clay and he was really rolling on serve, according to Insiders Tennis:
Berdych started strong against Nadal. His serve is really strong. Can he beat Nadal? #ATPMadrid— Insiders Tennis (@InsidersTennis) May 9, 2014
Unfortunately for Berdych, he blinked first and it ultimately cost him the first set. Rafa had to work extremely hard for the first break of the match, but he most definitely earned it with this incredible shot, per Tennis TV:
That particular sequence garnered praise from many, including Neil Harman of The Times:
Oooh I say! Mr Nadal is playing some rather lovely stuff— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) May 9, 2014
Nadal and Berdych once again traded holds to make it 5-4 in favor of Rafa on serve. The spectacular Spaniard didn't allow that golden opportunity to go by the wayside as he finished the set off to take a 1-0 overall advantage.
All it took was one slip-up for Berdych to fall behind and it may have stemmed from a failure to adjust. As described by Nick Nemeroff of Tennis View Mag, Nadal was able to feast on Berdych's second serves:
If Nadal is going to stand that far behind the baseline to return second serves, Berdych should really be going to his backhand.— Nick Nemeroff (@NNemeroff) May 9, 2014
According to this statistical graphic courtesy of Tennis TV, second serve success rate certainly appeared to be one of the deciding factors in the opening set:
Real Madrid soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo was in attendance for Nadal's third-round match Thursday and even more Los Blancos players showed up to support Rafa Friday, per Social Real Madrid on Twitter:
Bale, Arbeloa, Casillas and his girlfriend Sara are all at the Madrid Open tennis game between Nadal & Berdych.— SocialRMadrid (@SocialRMadrid) May 9, 2014
Berdych attempted to put the first set behind him and force a decisive third, but the wheels started to come off early. A pair of holds made the score 1-1, but Nadal scored an early break to go up 2-1 and put the pressure on his opponent.
As seen in this Live Tennis photo, Nadal was clearly in great form at that point:
Nadal is enjoying this one - breaks with another dazzling forehand down the line to lead 2-1 in the second. pic.twitter.com/bWoCAKKd4J— Live Tennis (@livetennis) May 9, 2014
Berdych was never able to recover after that as Nadal broke him on a couple more occasions and came through with an easy 6-2 set to send Berdych home disappointed.
Nadal put an exclamation point on the victory with an emphatic ace, which prompted Barry Flatman of the Sunday Times to dismiss those questioning his form:
Rafa Nadal fires an ace down the middle to pummel Tomas Berdych. Crisis? What crisis— Barry Flatman (@Barry_FlatmanST) May 9, 2014
While Berdych technically fared a bit better than Monaco and Nieminen, there is little question that this was Nadal's most impressive performance in Madrid thus far. Berdych is far from a pushover, but he had no answer for Nadal's speed, quickness and counter-punching ability.
No player in tennis can beat Nadal on clay when he plays at that level, so it seems likely that Bautista-Agut and Giraldo will simply be playing for the chance to reach the final four. Both players are excellent on clay, but Nadal is the master.
Assuming Nadal reaches the final, Kei Nishikori and countryman David Ferrer are potential opponents that he could meet. Nadal is quite familiar with both of them and he shouldn't experience much trouble against either.
How will Rafael Nadal ultimately fare in the Madrid Open?
Panic always seems to set in among tennis observers when Nadal isn't perfect, which is why there were whispers entering Madrid. They picked up again when he struggled to close out Nieminen Thursday, but Nadal silenced them once again against Berdych.
This tournament is Nadal's to lose and all signs point to him officially righting the ship with a Madrid Open title.
That would be a major feather in his cap with the French Open looming and it would be a warning shot to his closest competitors that he is back.
Nadal is incredibly tough to beat on clay no matter what, but now that Nadal is playing with the utmost confidence the expectation is that he is prepared to go on an incredible run to finish up the clay-court season.
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