Making a return to tennis a year earlier, Rafael Nadal stood at the top of the tennis world in February 2014. The Spaniard claimed ten ATP titles in the previous season and looked strong at the beginning of 2014. Rafa lost the Australian Open final to Stan Wawrinka and returned to action at the inaugural Rio de Janeiro event in February.
Unlike in 2013, it was Nadal’s only tournament on clay during the Golden Swing. He went all the way to lift his 62nd ATP title, barely beating Pablo Andujar in the semis and toppling Alexandr Dolgopolov in the title match on February 23.
Nadal defeated Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Albert Montanes and Joao Sousa in the opening three rounds. He lost his serve two times and hoped for more of the same against Andujar in a battle for the final. Instead, Pablo kept the Roland Garros champion on the court for two hours and 47 minutes.
Andujar took the opening set and wasted two match points in the decider. However, Rafa prevailed 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 to avoid an upset following a crazy tie break that he grabbed 12-10! 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. Nadal scored a 6-3, 7-6 triumph in an hour and 41 minutes to become the inaugural Rio 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 and kept the pressure on the other side.
Nadal earned two breaks from three opportunities to prevail in straight sets and avoid the potential troubles he had a day earlier in the semi-final. Dolgopolov had more winners and more unforced and forced errors. He lost ground in the shortest rallies and fell 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 encounter’s fourth game to lose serve at love. Rafa confirmed the break after a service winner to move 4-1 up and settle into a nice rhythm.
Rafael Nadal became the first Rio de Janeiro champion in 2014.
Staying aggressive, Alexandr created a break chance in game seven with a forehand winner at the net.
Rafa denied it with a perfect drop shot and faced the second following the rival’s volley winner. A service winner helped the Spaniard to get out of jail before meeting the third break chance. He fended it off with a forced error and closed 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 second set’s third game when his volley found the net.
He sprayed a forehand error in the next one to send Rafa 3-1 up and closer to the finish line. A service winner pushed Nadal 4-2 up after a hold at love before creating a break opportunity that could have propelled him 5-2 in front.
Alexandr saved it with a powerful forehand to stay within one break deficit and served to stay in the match when Nadal held with another unreturned serve at 4-3. Ready to fight for every point, Alexandr reduced the deficit to 5-4 and broke back a few minutes later to lock the result at 5-5 and increase the drama.
The Ukrainian grabbed the third straight game with a forehand winner to move 6-5 ahead and send the pressure to the other side. With no room for mistakes, Nadal held with a drop shot in game 12 to set up a tie break. He made a reliable start and opened a 4-1 gap when Alexandr netted an easy backhand.
Rafa earned three match points with a forehand return winner at 5-3 and finished the job with a service winner for 7-3 and the 62nd ATP title in his hands.
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