Rafael Nadal was made to work hard before claiming his fifth Mutua Madrid Open title with victory over Austria's Dominic Thiem in Sunday's final. The trio with a combined 44 major titles between them have redefined tennis and made the past decade and a half the most exciting time for the sport.
The Spaniard and four-time victor in Madrid got off to a dream start in the 50th meeting between the two great rivals, winning every point in the first game to break Djokovic, with the home crowd wildly celebrating his first point - a potent return which the Serbian could only hit into the ground.
As for Thiem, the 23-year-old is happy with his improved performance against Nadal in his first Masters 1000 final as he feels the match was more even. "I felt like I was playing well throughout the week". He stormed his way through Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and aside from a tough first round in Madrid, he dominated his way through there as well.
"I can not promise to play or pull out right now".
First, though, Nadal will be entirely focused on Madrid, but he will certainly be the favourite against either No8 Dominic Thiem or the unseeded Pablo Cuevas-though each has claimed a clay win over Nadal in the past. "But it's just one of these days where your opponent is just playing better than you, and you have to be able to say, 'congratulations, ' and move on".
Djokovic showed his resistence of old to break back when Nadal netted after being stretched out on the backhand side to level at 2-2.
He then broke the serve of the Austrian in the early going of the second set before sealing his win.
The Spanish superstar won 7-6 (10/8), 6-4 to take his record on his favourite surface to 15-0 this year having also picked up his 10th titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona over the past weeks.
It was another disappointing loss for the struggling Djokovic, who hasn't reached a final since winning his first tournament of the year in Doha. And the outcome of that match would give us an idea of what might transpire in Rome, and more importantly Roland Garros starting later this month. "As I go along, I hope to continue getting better and getting stronger".
The upcoming match will be the 5th meeting between the Austrian and the Spaniard, a 3: 1 confrontation in favor of Rafa.
I think that the last two years perhaps haven't been my best two years. Previous year perhaps I made a few mistakes.
And he took the match on his second match point to set up the date with Nadal.
The Madrid Open was Djokovic's first tournament since he parted ways with longtime coach Marian Vajda and two other team members to try to regain his "winning spark on the court". I didn't do any bad mistakes at my break chances.