Rafael Nadal warms up for French Open with victory in Madrid

Rafael Nadal defeated Dominic'¨Thiem 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 yesterday in the Madrid Open final to win his third straight title and continue his good form heading into the French Open.

Rafael Nadal unleashes a forehand return to Dominic Thiem during the final of the Mutua Madrid Open. Picture: Getty.

Nadal withstood a tough challenge from the ninth-ranked Thiem, converting on his fourth match point to earn his 15th straight victory on clay and tie Novak Djokovic’s record of 30 career titles in Masters 1,000 events.

The triumph at his home tournament gave Nadal his 72nd career title, and 52nd on clay.

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It was Nadal’s second straight win against the 23-year-old Austrian, coming two weeks after the Barcelona Open final when the fifth-ranked Spaniard cruised to victory in straight sets. Nadal also won in Monte Carlo last month.

Nadal had easily defeated Thiem in Barcelona, losing only five games in a two-set victory, but was forced to work a lot harder yesterday.

In an even first set, Nadal had to save two set points in the tiebreaker. The Spaniard converted his fifth set point of the match to take that tiebreaker and go one set up. Nadal broke early in the second set but 
was not able to pull away, and needed to save four break points in the final game before closing out the match.

Nadal, who was out for much of last year because of a wrist injury, has won 30 of his last 32 sets going into the tournament in Rome this week. Then 
the 14-times Grand Slam champion will head to the French Open and try to win his tenth title at Roland Garros, where he won his last Grand Slam title three years ago.

He defeated Djokovic in the semi-finals in Madrid, snapping a seven-match winless streak against the second-ranked Serb.

It was Nadal’s fifth title in eight Madrid Open finals, and the first since 2014. His other titles came in 2005, 2010 and 2013.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Dan Evans fell to a straight-sets defeat by Jiri Vesely in the first round of the Italian Open.

Vesely, from the Czech Republic, needed only one hour and 16 minutes to run out a comfortable 6-3, 6-1 winner and bridge a gap of five places in the world rankings.

World No 58 Evans had chances to break at 4-1 down in the first set and recover from a difficult start. But Vesely showed his fighting spirit by saving every one of Evans’ eight break points in the 

Aljaz Bedene booked his place in the first round by beating Argentina’s Renzo Olivo in straight sets. Having already dispatched Lukas Lacko in the first qualifying round, the 
British No 3 displayed early nerves in dropping his opening service game against Olivo.However, four games in succession helped Bedene secure the opening set before a decisive break in game five of the second sealed a 6-3, 6-4 victory in one hour and 36 minutes.

The world No 56 joins fellow Britons Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund in the men’s main draw in Rome.

Defending champion Murray will meet Fabio Fognini after the Italian breezed past countryman Matteo Berrettini 6-1, 6-3 yesterday in the first round. Murray and the other top seven seeded players have first-round byes.