'Facing Rafael Nadal in Madrid was my toughest Masters 1000 match,' Nishikori recalls



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'Facing Rafael Nadal in Madrid was my toughest Masters 1000 match,' Nishikori recalls

Kei Nishikori was a contender for a Masters 1000 title in Madrid 2014. The Japanese played on a high level to reach the title clash and stood two games away from beating the king of clay Rafael Nadal in straight sets. Suddenly, the Spaniard made a comeback in set number two and won the crown when the Japanese retired in the decider due to a leg injury.

Kei picked this encounter as his most formidable Masters 1000 challenge, evoking good and bad memories and remembering how well he played that week. The aggressive Japanese had the strings of the match in his hands against the Spaniard, needing only an hour to forge a 6-2, 3-1 advantage.

Nishikori stood on the verge of his first Masters 1000 title before he suffered an injury that forced him to retire in the final set and settle with the runner-up prize. Nadal scored a 2-6, 6-4, 3-0 victory 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 three times in the first part of the encounter, making too many errors and failing to impose his strokes. Still, the Spaniard claimed seven straight games from 4-1 down in the second to improve his numbers against the opponent who was miles from his best.

Rafa earned three consecutive breaks before Kei retired after taking only one point in the third set. The Japanese had the upper hand in the most extended rallies. Still, Nadal erased that deficit in the shortest and mid-range exchanges, playing better and better after making that second set comeback and celebrating the title soon after.

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

Kei Nishikori spoke about his first Masters 1000 final against Rafael Nadal.

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.

At the beginning of the second set, a forehand winner delivered a break for Nishikori. He looked like a dominant figure on the court, fending off three break chances in game two and holding at 15 in the sixth to open a 6-2, 4-2 gap.

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

After another treatment, Kei got broken at 4-5 to hand the set to the crowd's favorite and took only one point in the decider's first three games before retiring. "My most challenging Masters 1000 match was against Rafael Nadal in Madrid 2014 final.

In a way, it was a good and a bad experience. I played some of my best tennis that week and made a great start against Rafa, with every ball finding its target. After the second set, I started feeling my leg and could not move.

Unfortunately, I had to retire. It was a good memory, but also sad because I had a little chance to beat Rafa and win the title," Kei Nishikori said.