Madrid (AP) — Rafael Nadal continued his impressive form heading into the French Open, winning his third straight title on clay Sunday with a 7-6 (8), 6-4 victory over Dominic Thiem in the Madrid Open final.
Nadal withstood a tough challenge from the ninth-ranked Thiem, converting on his fourth match point to earn his 15th straight victory and tie Novak Djokovic’s record of 30 career titles in Masters 1000 events.
The triumph at his home tournament gave Nadal his 72nd career title, and 52nd on clay. It will also move him from fifth to fourth in the rankings, ahead of Roger Federer.
“To try to win Roland Garros, you don’t need to be No. 4 or No. 1 or No. 5, what you need is to play tennis very well,” Nadal said. “I don’t think it changes a lot for me. What I’m really happy about is to achieve a title like this here in Madrid. I see myself being able to win important titles and achieve my goals.”
It was Nadal’s second straight win against the 23-year-old Austrian, coming two weeks after the Barcelona Open final when the Spaniard cruised to victory in straight sets.
Nadal also won in Monte Carlo last month.
“These last few weeks have been very special. I’m very happy for what I achieved,” Nadal said. “It means a lot to me to win at home, it’s always a special place for me.”
Nadal had easily defeated Thiem in Barcelona, losing only five games in a two-set victory, but was forced to work a lot harder on Sunday.
In an even first set, Nadal had to save two set points in the tiebreaker. The Spaniard converted his fifth set point of the match to take that tiebreaker and go one set up. Nadal broke early in the second set but was not able to pull away, and needed to save four break points in the final game before closing out the match.
“Anything could have happened at the end of the first set, but I think I played well the important points at the end,” Nadal said. “I saved a few set points playing some good shots with my forehand. After that I went for it.”
Thiem was trying to win his ninth title, and the first since winning the Rio de Janeiro tournament in the beginning of the year. It was his first final in a Masters 1000 event.
“It was a good fight out there. I was much, much better and much closer than in Barcelona,” Thiem said. “Sometimes against the best players in the world, you even lose when you play well.”
Nadal has a tour-leading 34 victories in what has been a superb season following some lean years for the 14-time Grand Slam champion. He also made it to three finals, losing two of them to Federer, including at the Australian Open.
Nadal, who was out for much of last year because of a wrist injury, has won 30 of his last 32 sets going into the tournament in Rome this week. Then he will try to win his 10th title at Roland Garros, where he captured his last Grand Slam title three years ago.
He defeated Djokovic in the semifinals in Madrid, snapping a seven-match winless streak against the second-ranked Serb.
It was Nadal’s fifth title in eighth Madrid Open finals, and the first since 2014. His other titles came in 2005, 2010 and 2013.
“This is a very emotional period of the season. I really enjoy these tournaments,” Nadal said. “I did well in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and also here. I hope to do the same in Rome.”