Making a return to tennis a year earlier, Rafael Nadal stood on the top of the tennis world in February 2014, winning ten titles in the previous season and looking strong at the beginning of the new one as well. Nadal claimed the title in Doha in the first week of 2014, reaching the Australian Open final where Stan Wawrinka toppled him in four sets, with the Spaniard taking a well-deserved rest before inaugural ATP 500 Rio Open.
Unlike in 2013, it was the only tournament on clay for Rafa during the Golden Swing and he went all the way to lift the 62nd ATP title, barely beating Pablo Andujar in the semis and toppling Alexandr Dolgopolov in the title match on February 23.
In the opening three rounds, Nadal defeated Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Albert Montanes and Joao Sousa, losing serve twice in total and hoping for more of the same against Andujar in the battle for the final. Instead of that, Pablo kept the Roland Garros champion on the court for two hours and 47 minutes, taking the opening set and wasting two match points in the decider before Rafa prevailed 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 to avoid an upset and stay on the title course following a crazy tie break that he grabbed 12-10.
In the final, world no. 54 Alexandr Dolgopolov stood between Nadal and the trophy, advancing into his third ATP final on clay and hoping to stun world no. 1 and lift the third ATP crown. After an hour and 41 minutes, Nadal scored a 6-3, 7-6 triumph to become the inaugural champion and continue where he left in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros last spring.
The Spaniard fended off three out of four break chances, earning two breaks from three break chances to prevail in straight sets and avoid potential troubles he had a day earlier in the semis. Dolgopolov had more winners but also more unforced and forced errors, losing ground in the shortest rallies and falling in straight sets despite staying in touch with Nadal in the mid-range and most extended exchanges.
The Ukrainian sprayed a forehand error in the fourth game to lose serve at love, with Rafa confirming the break after a service winner to move 4-1 up and settle into a nice rhythm. Staying aggressive, Alexandr created a break chance in game seven with a forehand winner at the net, denied by a perfect drop shot and defense from Rafa who faced another break chance thanks to a volley winner from Dolgopolov.
A service winner helped the Spaniard to get out of jail before meeting the third break chance, fending it off with a forced error and closing the game to move 5-2 up. Serving for the set in the ninth game, Nadal held at love after an ace to claim the opener 6-3 after 38 minutes, looking good to seal the deal in straight sets.
Dolgopolov got broken in the third game of the second set when his volley found the net, spraying a forehand error in the next game to sent Rafa 3-1 up. A service winner pushed Nadal 4-2 up after a hold at love, creating a break opportunity that could have sent him 5-2 ahead.
Alexandr saved it with a powerful forehand to stay within one break deficit, serving to stay in the match when Nadal held with another unreturned serve in game eight. Ready to fight for every point, Alexandr reduced the deficit to 5-4 and broke back to level the score and prolong the action, holding at 15 with a forehand winner to gain a 6-5 advantage.
With no room for mistakes, Nadal held with a drop shot in game 12 to set up a tie break where he opened a 4-1 lead when Alexandr netted an easy backhand. Rafa earned three match points with a forehand return winner at 5-3, finishing the job with a service winner for a 7-3 and the 62nd ATP title in his hands.