World no. 1 Rafael Nadal has become the first player with five Mubadala World Tennis Championship crowns, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7, 7-5, 7-6 in some three hours and 15 minutes! It was one of the best encounters in the history of this tournament and Rafa needed everything from his arsenal to top the young challenger who ousted Novak Djokovic in the semi-final yesterday.
Almost nothing could separate them on the court and it was the more experienced competitor who saved his best tennis for the closing moments, prevailing and finishing the year with another trophy on his tally. In the opening set, Nadal had to dig deep in almost every service game, fending off one break chance after another to stay in touch and wasting an excellent opportunity to steal the set and grab the momentum.
Stefanos continued where he left against Novak Djokovic in the semi-final, delivering one good hold after another to mount the pressure on the other side of the net. The Spaniard repelled two break chances in the second game with service winners, erasing two more two games later thanks to another good serve and a loose forehand from Stefanos.
The Greek was on the verge of break at 3-2 as well, creating three break opportunities but wasting them all after some fine shotmaking from Nadal, with the Spaniard closing the game with two winners to survive and level the score at 3-3.
As usual in tennis, a player who squanders his chances usually gets punished, with Nadal hitting a forehand winner to score a break in the ninth game and serve for the set despite all the challenges. Serving for the set in the tenth game, Rafa squandered two set points and got broken after a backhand error to keep Stefanos in the set.
With the momentum on his side, the youngster scored three mini-breaks and closed it after 65 minutes when Nadal netted a forehand in the tenth point. Set number two offered eight commanding holds and a massive chance for Tsitsipas to make the pivotal move in the ninth game after creating two break points.
With no room for errors, Rafa erased those to stay alive, overcoming another problematic game at 5-5 and stealing Tsitsipas' serve a few minutes later with a volley winner to take the set 7-5 and force a decider. They stayed neck and neck until the sixth game of the third set before Nadal broke at 15 after a forehand error from the youngster, moving 4-2 up but staying ahead only for a couple of minutes as Stefanos broke back after forcing a mistake from world no.
1. Two service winners at 30-30 pushed Rafa 5-4 in front before Tsitsipas held at love while serving to stay in the match, showing no signs of nerves and bringing the pressure back to the other side of the net. Two comfortable holds later, players went into a deciding tie break and Nadal made the first move, clinching an early mini-break and serving well to take the breaker 7-3 and celebrate the title after one of the best matches of 2019.