Rafael Nadal picked up his first European clay-court title of the season Sunday after his opponent, Kei Nishikori, retired while trailing in the third set.
The world No. 1 Spaniard raised concerns with his less than dominant play during the recent clay-court tournaments and seemed to be on his way to yet another loss.
But Nishikori, who took a medical time in the second set for treatment on his back and hip, called it a day when trailing 2-6, 6-4, 3-0, to give Nadal his fourth Madrid Open trophy. By reaching the finals, the Japanese star moved up three spots to a career high world No. 9.
With the victory, Nadal became the first repeat winner in Madrid and picked up his 44th career title on clay. But the win is only his second clay-court title of the year on a surface he typically rules.
“I was blocked. There were some moments where, I don’t know, I couldn’t find myself,” Nadal said (via Associated Press). “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to play or I was missing intensity, I was just mentally blocked.”
The Madrid Open win guarantees that he will stay No. 1 in the rankings leading up the French Open that begins May 25.
On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova also rallied from a poor start to beat Simona Halep, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3, to win her maiden Madrid Open title.
Sharapova, who lost in last year’s final to Serena Williams, looked outmatched in the first set to the fifth-ranked Romanian, but began hitting winners to pull away in the match that even she was surprised to win.
“I don’t know how I pulled it off,” Sharapova said (via Associated Press). “I came close last year, and I didn’t have a great first set today, but I knew it wasn’t over until the last point was played.”
The win moves Sharapova up two spots to seventh in the world and is her 32nd career title. She is 47-3 on clay since the 2011 French Open. All three losses have been to Williams.