MADRID: Rafael Nadal clinched a record-breaking 18th career Masters title on Sunday when he defeated old rival Roger Federer 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) in the Madrid final, landing a powerful psychological French Open blow in the process.
The Spaniard, who will reclaim the world number two ranking on Monday, became the first man to claim three major clay titles prior to the start of Roland Garros while victory also gave him an 18th Masters trophy, one more than Andre Agassi and two ahead of Federer.
A year ago, Federer defeated Nadal in the Caja Magica final, then carried the victory momentum to Roland Garros where he lifted his first title at the venue with a defeat of Robin Soderling to complete a career Grand Slam.
Nadal now heads to Paris with all guns blazing as he bids to wipe out last year’s fourth-round loss to Soderling and resume his trophy chase after winning the first four editions he played in the French capital.
“Winning here at home is a dream,” said Nadal, who took the victory honours over the past weeks in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would win all three of these big events,” added the Spaniard, unbeaten this clay season with 15 consecutive victories.
Nadal, now with 39 titles to his name, leads Federer 14-7 in career meetings, winning ten of their last 12.
He now stands 28-2 in claycourt finals, his two losses coming at the hands of Federer, including Madrid a year ago.
Federer missed out on chances repeatedly in the final, which lasted just over two hours, converting on only one of seven break points in an hour-long opening set.
In the second, the world number one twice recovered from a break down and once into the tiebreaker, took a 4-2 lead.
But four consecutive unforced errors meant a wasted effort, with Nadal claiming victory on his second of three match points, a Federer miss-hit.
“It’s been a wonderful event for me,” said the Swiss. “I’m sorry I couldn’t defend the title. Rafa’s had an incredible clay season, he was supreme today.
“I’m looking forward to Paris, I’m happy with my claycourt game, I know I’m not Spanish but I tried to play some clay court tennis here.”
Federer, whose only title this season came over Andy Murray for the Australian Open title, fired nine aces, including three in the ninth game of the second set as the drum-tight contest wound toward the tiebreaker.
The Swiss saved seven of the 11 break points he faced while Nadal was broken three times.
Nadal moved into a tie in fifth place in the list of claycourt title winners with his 28 alongside Bjorn Borg and Ilie Nastese. Argentine Guillermo Vilas leads the table on 45.
Nadal and Federer have combined to win 18 of the past 20 Grand Slam titles.