As Nadal Keeps Extending His Brilliance On Clay, He’s Finding Ways To Improve His Game

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal is a five-time champion at the ATP Masters 1000 Mutua Madrid Open – soon to be six-time champion if his 6-3, 6-1 second-round win over Gaël Monfils of France on Wednesday afternoon, punctuated by 17 winners, is any indicator.

By improving his career win-loss record at Madrid to 49-10, Nadal extended several winning streaks. Among them:

• 13 matches overall

• 28 sets overall

• 20 matches on clay

• 48 sets on clay

When the top-seeded Nadal takes his place on Manolo Santana court inside Caja Mágica Thursday evening against No. 13 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina in the round of 16, Nadal will try to tie – and break – Hall of Famer John McEnroe’s record of 49 straight sets won on any surface, which the American set in 1984 on indoor carpet. If Nadal is successful against Schwartzman – and don’t bet against it – he’ll achieve 50 straight winning sets on clay.

During his post-match media gathering after beating Monfils, Nadal, who is now 17-1 on the season and 13-0 on clay, opened up about how he analyzes his own performance during a winning streak. He said, “The process is very simple for me: I analyze every day the things that happened and try to fix things. My team and I, we need to keep improving, and keep doing the things that are working very well. Every day is a different day. What happened the week before or two weeks ago is in the past.

“We were thinking just about the match of today. Now, we are thinking about the match of tomorrow. That’s the way that I analyze things. I don’t think if I had a lot of victories in a row.”

Ironically, Nadal, who turns 32 on June 3, is the only Spaniard to make it to the last 16 – fewest in the 17-year history of the tournament. Madrid’s very own Feliciano Lopez ended his 17-year run as a player at the Mutua Madrid Open Wednesday when he lost in three sets to Schwartzman, one of three Argentines remaining in the field along with Juan Martín del Potro and Leonardo Mayer. Otherwise, he would be the one next facing Nadal. Lopez, 36, who has played in every Mutua Madrid Open since its inception, becomes tournament director next year.

Djokovic continues to struggle

Meanwhile, for all the success Nadal has enjoyed this week – not to mention since winning Monte-Carlo and Barcelona at the beginning of the spring European clay season – former World No. 1 Novak Djokovic continues to struggle as he comes back from elbow surgery earlier this year. On Wednesday, the two-time Mutua Madrid Open champion fell to 6-6 in 2018 when he lost in three sets to unseeded Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, in a second round match in which the 22nd-ranked Edmund displayed great discipline over the course of the one hour and 42 minute match against the 10th-seeded Djokovic.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed from losing this match,” the 30-year-old Djokovic said during his post-match press conference, trying to put things into some perspective, two days after he beat unseeded and 20th-ranked Kei Nishikori in the opening round. “But I can be happy with the progress of the level of my tennis.

“There are obviously things that are not working well for me. But I have to keep working on them and pray that – and hope that – my game will get stronger, get better as the matches go the distance. Especially (at) such big tournaments against quality players, you’ve got to step in. I tried, but obviously, (it) wasn’t to be today. Hopefully, (the) next one.”

For Djokovic, it’s on to Rome – the next stop on the road to Roland Garros – where he is a four-time champion of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. While losing early in a tournament – again – isn’t the end of the world for the Serbian, it’s been a disappointment. “Obviously, I’ve played this sport so many years and had a bunch of success. I try to always remind myself and be grateful for that.

“At the same time, nobody is forcing me to play this sport. I do it because I like it. I want to do it. And that’s something also that make me fortunate to play the sport. 

“So, that’s where I draw my strength. And as long as I keep going, as long as I love the sport, I’ll keep going. And that’s all it is.”