Rafael Nadal extended his record as the Madrid Open's most successful champion on Sunday after a 7-6 (8), 6-4 defeat of Dominic Thiem was enough to see the Spaniard clinch a fifth career crown in the final of the 2017 tournament.
Appearing in his eighth Madrid Open final—also a record high in the competition—the home favourite sailed to victory despite Thiem's best efforts to keep Nadal caged on his favoured clay surface.
The young gun built a promising foundation in Sunday's final and forced Nadal to a tiebreak in the first set before losing stamina in the second and struggling to keep pace with the king of clay from that point on.
Not only did Sunday's triumph extend Nadal's reach as Madrid's most dominant champion, but it also added to his illustrious record in the Masters 1000, per Eurosport UK:
Eurosport UK @Eurosport_UK
05: 🏆🏆🏆🏆 06: 🏆🏆 07: 🏆🏆🏆 08: 🏆🏆🏆 09: 🏆🏆🏆 10: 🏆🏆🏆 11: 🏆 12: 🏆🏆 13: 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆 14: 🏆 16: 🏆 17: 🏆🏆 It's THIRTY Masters 1000 titles for Rafa Nadal! https://t.co/aGTH2MfBOC2017-5-14 18:34:09
It was clear from the pair's respective entrances that Thiem would be fighting the Madrid crowd as well as Nadal on Sunday, with the Magic Box bellowing for the latter while his Austrian foe hardly produced a cheer.
Regardless, Thiem looked at ease in the capital and even broke first after reading a Nadal smash and following up with an impressive drop-shot response, carving out an early opening for the upset.
Unfortunately for the world No. 9, his served looked woefully poor at times, but his ground game made up for it as Thiem sealed a third game in succession, which left its mark with Jose Morgado of Portuguese daily Record:
José Morgado @josemorgado
Thiem is looking ... good 🔥🔥🔥 3-1 up2017-5-14 16:37:28
Seemingly offended by the underdog's audacity, Nadal returned fire with back-to-back games of his own and broke back in direct fashion—literally—firing the ball at Thiem, who was unable to return at the net.
The Spanish favourite briefly led at 4-3 thanks to a delicate drop shot before Thiem showed supreme resilience of his own to deny his opponent three set points and tie level at five games apiece, per Reem Abulleil of Sport360:
Reem Abulleil @ReemAbulleil
Huge hold from Thiem, saving set points on his way to 5-5, first set v Nadal in the Madrid final2017-5-14 17:12:35
Nadal held his serve to love in the ensuing game to move ahead at 6-5, and Thiem drove on to the tiebreak despite his opponent's best efforts to avoid any need with a last-ditch break attempt.
Madrid's home bird opened a 4-2 cushion early in the tiebreak before a three-point spree from Thiem drew him into a slim 6-5 lead. He was unable to hold it for long, however, as Nadal engaged on a three-point streak of his own to take the opener after a laborious first set, per Tennis TV:
Tennis TV @TennisTV
WHAT.A.SET. That man ⬇️ takes it 7-6 (8) in 78 minutes. #MMOPEN https://t.co/OLcMkY1zBG2017-5-14 17:36:37
Per the official ATP World Tour website, it was Thiem's unforced error count that proved his undoing in the first set, trumping Nadal 21 to 12 in that regard, which effectively decided the tiebreak in his foe's favour.
Early signs weren't good for Thiem after a break between sets as he surrendered his serve at the first time of asking, and despite keeping his enemy stuck to his own baseline at times, the Spanish native spun the fixture in his favour.
Nadal saved a break of his own as the pair warred at deuce before he moved two games ahead, and the duo exchanged blows by serving the next four consecutive games to love, with Thiem's elder trotting ahead at 4-2.
It's worth noting Thiem did bring one career win over Nadal into Sunday's showdown—at the 2016 Argentina Open—but Morgado praised the youngster for putting up a stronger test than the 6-4, 6-1 loss in Barcelona last month:
José Morgado @josemorgado
Thiem serving well, staying with Rafa. This is already much better than the Barcelona's 2nd set from him.2017-5-14 18:03:47
The audience appeared to sense Thiem's defiance was waning, but the player wasn't as content with his fate and rallied to fend off two match points, tying at deuce before landing a final game blow to pull within a game at 5-4 down.
A missed drop shot here and an overhit forehand there saw Nadal gift Thiem a 15-40 lead, but the veteran powered back, saving four break points before sealing match point at the second time of asking. The Spaniard drew Thiem to the left of his baseline before unleashing a backhand across court to break his own Madrid record:
Tennis TV @TennisTV
Game, set, match AND title Nadal, 7-6, 6-4. The Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid treble complete! #MMOPEN https://t.co/Ove8LFlwfh2017-5-14 18:34:14
A fifth win in Madrid—not to mention his third in the last five years—puts Nadal in great stead for the upcoming French Open, where he also happens to hold the record number of titles with nine wins since 2005.
Roland Garros is likely to feature a much headier raft of talent, but if 2017 has taught tennis fans anything thus far, it's to not count the old stars out just yet as Nadal and Roger Federer time their surges back to the top.