Rafael Nadal will finish the season as the year-end no. 1 player for the fifth time in a career, defending the advantage over Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals to become the fifth competitor with that many honors. Nadal was the most consistent player on the Tour in 2019, winning 58 out of 65 encounters and failing to reach the semi-final only in Acapulco and the last event at the ATP Finals.
The Spaniard had some unexpected losses, especially on clay where he is always the title favorite, but also some mighty impressive triumphs that boosted his confidence and carried him towards the ultimate goal. We have chosen Nadal's six most dominant performances of the season where he managed to outplay the rivals on both serve and return big time and deliver one-sided triumphs.
At the Australian Open, Rafa advanced into the 25th Major final following a brilliant 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 triumph over Stefanos Tsitsipas in an hour and 46 minutes! The 20-year-old Greek was seeking the place in the first Grand Slam final and to become the youngest player in a Major final since Novak Djokovic at the US Open 2007 but couldn't do anything against the rival who already defeated him in the final of Barcelona and Toronto last year, never finding his rhythm and finishing this great Melbourne run in the semi-final and just outside the top-10.
This was the ninth-largest age gap in the Grand Slam semi-final match in the Open era and Nadal was the dominant figure from start to finish, sailing through his service games and mounting the pressure on the other side of the net, the one that Stefanos couldn't endure.
With his new serve working like a charm, the Spaniard lost 12 points behind the initial shot in the entire encounter, facing one break point while serving for the win at 5-0 in the third set and never losing focus in what was another emphatic triumph that brought him on a verge of lifting the 18th Major crown.
Rafa also won 43% of the return points, taming Tsitsipas' serve and creating 11 break chances, converting them into six breaks of serve which was more than enough to control the scoreboard all the time. With his groundstrokes fired up from the very first point, Nadal finished with 28 winners and 14 unforced errors, doing everything right on the court and keeping Stefanos on a 17-22 ratio that wasn't enough for a more favorable result.
Unlike versus Roger Federer in the fourth round, Tsitsipas was just a shadow on the court for most of the encounter, finding no space to place his strokes or the way to steal the momentum away from Rafa. Nadal lost just three points on serve in the opening set and scored two breaks in games three and seven to bring it home safely and send the clear message to his rival.
Stefanos raised his level a little bit in set number two, fending off three break points in the fifth game before Rafa broke him at 4-4 to seal the deal with a service winner in game ten, dropping four points in five service games for two sets to love lead after 75 minutes.
Stefanos was done and dusted now, losing 12 of 15 points on serve in set number three and suffering three breaks to push Rafa into the final after a service winner from the Spaniard in the sixth game. The 11-time Monte Carlo champion made a perfect start in the Principality this year as well, demolishing the fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 6-1 in an hour and 16 minutes for the 69th win from 73 matches there!
Entering only the fourth tournament of the season after injuries that prevented him from showing more in the first three months, Rafa felt comfortable again on the slowest surface, losing just 15 points on serve and fending off all five break chances to keep serve intact.
The pressure was on Bautista Agut all the time and a player who defeated Novak Djokovic twice this season stood no chance against the strongest possible rival on the dirt, dropping almost 60% of the points in his games and getting broken five times from eight opportunities offered to Rafa.
Hitting 16 winners and 16 unforced errors, Nadal controlled the pace of the scoreboard, covering the court beautifully and always forcing Roberto to go for an extra shot and those risky strokes that caused only three winners and 20 unforced errors.
Rafa won 40 of 67 points in the shortest and mid-range segment, dominating 14-3 in the most extended rallies to leave the rival far behind and cross the finish line in style. The 2nd seed kicked off the match with a hold at 15, breaking Bautista Agut in the next game and opening a 4-0 lead with a perfect short forehand winner after just 16 minutes.
The opening set was over after 32 minutes following a nice hold from Rafa who kicked off the second set with another break when Roberto netted a forehand. Bautista Agut finally created some damage on the return in game four, creating three break chances that Rafa repelled to remain in front, clinching another break at 3-1 following another forehand mistake from Bautista Agut and saving two break points in the next game to move closer to the finish line.
A volley winner sealed another break and the match for Nadal at 5-1, wrapping up an impressive performance and cruising into the next round. In Madrid, Rafa ousted a former finalist Stan Wawrinka 6-1, 6-2 in 68 minutes. This was the best match for Rafa on his favorite surface this spring, dominating on both serve and return to leave the Swiss far behind and scoring the 18th win over Stan in 21 matches.
Nadal celebrated the 372nd Masters 1000 win and the 52nd in Madrid, dropping seven points on serve and never facing a break chance, pushing Wawrinka to repeat the same if he wanted to stay competitive. Moving well and controlling the pace in the rallies, the Spaniard seized 56% of the return points to notch four breaks from ten opportunities and bring the match home in no time at all.
They had a similar number of winners while the mistakes were the element that determined the winner, with Rafa staying on six and Stan counting to 24, spraying most of those from his forehand that couldn't do much against solid and persistent strokes from the other side of the net.
Settling into an excellent rhythm right from the start, Rafa delivered one good hold after another and moved in front with a break at love in game four when Wawrinka hit a double fault. Unable to find the range or free space, the Swiss sprayed a forehand error at 1-4 for another break at love, allowing Nadal to close the opener with a hold in the next game for a 6-1 in 27 minutes.
Nothing changed in the second set and the Spaniard grabbed a break at 2-2 after some stunning defense, forging another break in the seventh game and moving over the top with a hold at love a few minutes later, blasting a service winner to set the semi-final clash against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
In Rome, Nadal toppled Jeremy Chardy and Nikoloz Basilashvili in a single day to save the energy for the rest of the week and complete a perfect day at the office. The Spaniard needed 67 minutes to dismiss Jeremy Chardy 6-0, 6-1 for a perfect start of the campaign.
It was the third win for Rafa over Jeremy in as many matches, playing against each other for the first time since Cincinnati 2015 in a one-sided battle that was always on Nadal's racquet. The 57th triumph in Rome for Rafa came after a rock-solid performance on both serve and return, dropping ten points behind the initial shot and fending off the only break points he faced to keep the pressure on Chardy's side of the net.
The Frenchman was far from that pace, struggling on both the first and second serve and losing 60% of the points in his games, offering Nadal seven break chances and giving serve away five times to propel the defending champion into the third round.
Taming his shots nicely, Nadal hit 13 winners and 11 unforced errors, leaving Jeremy on ten winners and almost 30 mistakes, having the edge in the shortest and mid-range exchanges to seal the deal in no time at all and save energy for the upcoming clash.
The Spaniard held at love in the opening game of the match and grabbed five straight points on the return in game two for an early break that gave him the momentum, securing another one in game four when Chardy netted a backhand to extend the advantage.
Serving to stay in the set at 0-5, Chardy got broken again after a beautiful backhand down the line winner from Nadal who wrapped up the first part of the match in 26 minutes, hoping for more of the same in the rest of the encounter.
Struggling to find the rhythm or range for his strokes, the Frenchman gave serve away again in the second game of the second set when his forehand landed long, falling 5-1 down after a forehand winner from Nadal who crossed the finish line with a hold at 15 in game seven.
A few hours later, Rafa took down Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1, 6-0 in 62 minutes to sail into the quarters, the 14th overall in Rome! Nadal lost eight points on serve, fending off the only break point he faced and taking 60% of the return points for five breaks from 11 opportunities, controlling the scoreboard from start to finish.
Nikoloz served at 73% but that gave him nothing against such a strong rival, spraying more than 30 unforced errors and standing no chance versus Nadal in the quickest or mid-range exchanges. Interestingly, Rafa had to save a break point in the opening game of the match, hitting a service winner and settling into a nice rhythm to break Basilashvili at love in game four.
Hold at love pushed the Spaniard 4-1 in front, grabbing another break in the next game after a backhand mistake from Nikoloz and sealing the opening set with another easy service game for a 6-1 in 30 minutes. Dictating the points at the beginning of the second set, Rafa clinched a break in the first game and forged a 3-0 advantage when he converted the fourth break chance following yet another poor groundstroke from his rival.
A forehand down the line winner sent Nadal 5-0 up, sealing the deal with a service winner in the next game to book the place in the last eight. In the third round at Wimbledon, Nadal ousted Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and 48 minutes, moving ahead of Bjorn Borg with the 51st Wimbledon win.
Firing 34 winners and only 12 unforced errors, the encounter was on Nadal's frame all the time, leaving a former semi-finalist with no answer and delivering some impressive tennis on both serve and return to march into the last 16, mighty confidence after that tight win over Nick Kyrgios two days ago.
The Frenchman barely hit more aces than his rival and was forced to work for every point and cover every part of the court to stay in the rallies. Hitting more unforced errors than winners, Jo-Wilfried never stood a chance and had to accept that a much better opponent showed him the exit door after the third round.
It was the best possible start from the Spaniard, firing 15 winners in the first set with only three unforced errors, dropping just three points behind the initial shot to mount the pressure on Tsonga who sent a forehand wide in the fourth game to push Rafa in front.
A forehand winner in the eighth game delivered another break for Nadal who needed 33 minutes to open a 6-2 gap. A former champion proved to be too strong in set number two as well, dropping two points in service games and earning a break at 3-2 to forge the advantage.
Tsonga saved two set points on serve at 2-5 before Rafa held at love with a backhand winner for a 6-3 and a massive lead just 70 minutes since the beginning of the match. The Frenchman lost serve comfortably in games three and five in the third set, saving match points on serve in the seventh game, allowing Nadal to seal the deal with another hold at love for the place in the last 16.