Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova have sounded unwavering Roland Garros intentions – Nadal marking a decade on tour with a seventh Barcelona crown and Sharapova shaking a self-imposed “cow on ice” clay-court tag to land the keys to a new Porsche in Stuttgart.
Top seed Nadal became the first man in the Open era to win two events seven or more times – on the back of an eighth Monte Carlo crown last week – winning a high-level all-Spanish final against good friend David Ferrer, 7-6(1), 7-5.
It puts him in the box seat to defend his Roland Garros crown, where he would surpass Bjorn Borg’s record haul with a seventh title.
Barring a knee injury, which broke his run of consecutive Barcelona titles in 2010, the only player to have denied the Spaniard on the dirt at the Real Club de Tennis is Spain’s current Davis Cup captain, Alex Corretja, back in 2003.
“Every year the emotions are very high, but every year they get higher because you are one year older and you do not how many more chances you have to win. This is a very important victory me, winning two straight titles back-to-back, my first two titles of the year,” Nadal said afterwards.
“I feel sorry for David and hope he can win here one day because he deserves it.”
Ever in Nadal’s shadow, the always-consistent Ferrer was runner-up to his compatriot for the fourth time in Barcelona, the 12th time in 13 matches he has finished on the losing end of a tour final against a top 10 player.
Despite being unable to take the ascendancy on the crucial points in the final, the 30-year-old remained upbeat about his week, having saved three match points against Feliciano Lopez in the quarter-finals before edging the giant Canadian Milos Raonic, who had earlier claimed his first top-four scalp against Andy Murray.
"I had chances in both sets; he played better in the important moments," Ferrer said. "It's always hard to lose a final, but especially today it's hard because of the way it happened. It came down to small details, but Rafa deserved it.
"Overall I'm happy with my week. I played my best match of the week today, but to win against Rafa I had to do more. I played a bit too conservatively on the set points in the first set. It's difficult to lose my fourth final. It was a very good tournament for me."
Sharapova downed the past three women’s Grand Slam champions to claim the Stuttgart title from a packed field, which featured all of the world’s top eight.
A 6-1, 6-4 result put a resounding end to a four-match finals losing streak against world No.1 Victoria Azarenka and a major confidence boost as she bids to secure the lone trophy missing from her Grand Slam mantlepiece.
Patience was pivotal for the 25-year-old Russian as she gradually forced the Australian Open champion on the back foot, clobbering 31 winners and just 13 unforced errors, while never dropping serve.
Arguably Sharapova’s sternest test came in the quarter-finals where she rallied from a break down in the third set and saved a match point to beat US Open champion Sam Stosur.
In a semi-final line-up featuring the world’s top-4 ranked women, she had an easier time getting past Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, while Azarenka continued her domination of Pole Agnieszka Radwanska for a tilt at what would have been her first Premier-level clay court crown.
"I had lost the last few previous encounters with Victoria, so I was extremely motivated today," Sharapova said. " Before I was maybe a little bit impatient and went for a bit too much sometimes, but this time I was really patient. I was aggressive but consistent when I had to be against her.”