ThrowbackTimes Madrid: Rafael Nadal defends title over injured Kei Nishikori

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ThrowbackTimes Madrid: Rafael Nadal defends title over injured Kei Nishikori

Rafael Nadal claimed six ATP titles on clay in 2013, including back-to-back ones in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. A year later, things didn't work that well for the Spaniard on his beloved surface, suffering quarter-final losses in Monte Carlo and Barcelona to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro, hoping to bounce back at home in Madrid.

Rafa played well against Juan Monaco, Jarkko Nieminen, Tomas Berdych and Roberto Bautista Agut, advancing into the fifth final from six editions of this event in Caja Magica and facing Kei Nishikori in the title clash. The aggressive Japanese had the strings of the encounter in his hands, needing only an hour to forge a 6-2, 3-1 advantage and standing on the verge of the first Masters 1000 title before he suffered a back injury that forced him to retire in the decider.

In the end, Nadal scored a 2-6, 6-4, 3-0 win in an hour and 43 minutes to lift the 27th Masters 1000 crown and the fourth in Madrid, nine years after the first one on an indoor hard court. Struggling to match the rival's pace, Rafa got broken thrice in that first part of the match, making too many errors and failing to impose his strokes.

Still, from 4-2 down in the second, the Spaniard claimed seven straight games to improve his numbers against the opponent who was miles from his best, securing three consecutive breaks before Kei had to retire after taking only one point in the third set.

The Japanese had the upper hand in the most extended rallies but Nadal erased that deficit in the shortest and mid-range exchanges, playing better and better after that comeback in the second set and celebrating the title soon after that as Nishikori had nothing left in the tank.

Spreading the defending champion over the baseline, Kei earned a break in the third game, confirming it with a service winner and forging a 4-1 advantage with another break in game five following a strong return that Rafa failed to control.

The Spaniard saved a set point at 1-5 but that was all he could do, as the Japanese closed the opener with an ace in the next game after 36 minutes. A forehand winner delivered a break at the beginning of the second set for Nishikori who looked dominant on the court, fending off three break chances in game two and holding at 15 in game six to move 6-2, 4-2 up.

Still, that was the point when he started to struggle, asking for a medical timeout after the seventh game for a lower back injury and never winning a game by the end of the match. Rafa pulled the break back in game eight after a sublime defense, gathering boost and holding at love to gain the lead.

After another treatment, Kei got broken in game ten to hand the set to the crowd favorite, taking only one point in the first three games of the decider and deciding to retire at that moment, not willing to risk an even more severe injury.