Rafael Nadal extended his sizzling summer with his first Cincinnati title on Sunday, while world No. 1 Serena Williams wilted just one set away from a breakthrough of her own.
Nadal took advantage of the few openings he got against John Isner, grinding out a 7-6 (10/8), 7-6 (7/3) win at the Western & Southern Open that added yet another title to his sensational summer.
The 27-year-old Spaniard won the championship in Montreal a week ago and has back-to-back hard-court championships for the first time in his illustrious career. He had never even reached the finals in Cincinnati.
When his backhand down the line finished it off, Nadal flopped on his back and screamed.
“It means a lot winning two straight titles on hard [courts],” Nadal said. “It’s just amazing for me. I never did something like this in my career. So it was an emotional moment.”
Williams had never won a Cincinnati title either. Like Nadal, she was trying for her second championship in two weeks, fresh off her win in Toronto.
She dominated the first set, then fell apart, giving world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka a chance to rally for a 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) win that ended Williams’ 14-match winning streak. Williams committed 58 unforced errors that turned the momentum.
“I just felt really off this whole week, but I was surprised to be in the final and surprised to be doing well,” Williams said. “So I don’t know, there’s a few factors. I think what matters most was just fighting the whole time and survived to the end.”
The week in Cincinnati provided a preview for the US Open, with the men’s bracket more jumbled at the top.
Nadal’s five Masters titles this season are a career best. He is tied with Novak Djokovic for most Masters titles in a season since 1990 and has won seven of the nine Masters events during his career.
Nadal has dominated the tour after overcoming a knee injury that sidelined him for the final part of last year. The win on Sunday gave him a career-best mark of 53-3 this season and he has reached the finals in 11 of his last 12 tournaments, underscoring his consistent excellence.
He had one of his biggest challenges on Sunday — Isner, who had the tournament’s most powerful serve and the crowd at center court behind him.
Nadal survived a pair of set points in the opener, sending it to a tiebreaker. The crowd chanted “Let’s go Isner!” during a changeover during the tiebreaker, which ended with Isner dumping a service return into the net and Nadal pumping his fist.
Nadal survived the only break point of the second set, taking it to another tiebreaker. The crowd chanted Isner’s name again, but it did not help. He hit a backhand and a forehand into the net, allowing Nadal to go 5-1 up in the tiebreaker.
Nadal finished it with a backhand passing shot from the baseline, then plopped on his back. He never got to a break point during the match, but won it by playing so well in the tiebreakers.
“I have to be patient and wait for my opportunities,” Nadal said. “And I waited.”