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Tour report - Nadal and Sharapova bounce back

Rafael Nadal wins Barcelona in 2013
by Alexandra Willis
Tuesday 30 April 2013

Defending French Open champions Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova had their first taste of success on clay since their Parisian triumphs in Barcelona and Stuttgart respectively. 

What way to bounce back from losing one of your favourite tournaments to your fiercest rival? By winning another. Triumphing in Barcelona for the eighth time in nine years with a straightforward win over compatriot Nicolas Almagro, Rafael Nadal became the first man to win four titles this season, in his sixth final, and sixth tournament of the year. Not bad for a man who only returned from injury in February. And he topped it all off by putting the trophy on his head. As you do. 

Nadal's female counterpart in Paris, Sharapova, added to an equally surprising statistic. Surprising for her, at least. In her 6-4, 6-3 defeat of Li Na to successfully defend her Stuttgart title, Sharapova extended her winning streak on clay to 16 matches, and it became the sixth of her last eight titles to be won on the dirt. Not bad for a player who has always professed it to be her weakest surface, having taken six years as a professional before winning on clay, and proclaimed herself to resemble a "cow on ice."

Even more surprisingly, the win, her seventh clay court title and 29th overall, puts her joint third (with Flavia Pennetta) on the list of active female players with the most clay court titles, behind Anabel Medina Garrigues (10) and Venus Williams (9). Sara Errani and Serena Williams are one behind with six titles each. 

Whether their respective triumphs - Nadal's over a weak field, Sharapova's over a stronger one - will pencil in the pair to defend their titles in Paris in just under a month's time is unlikely. The two major pre-French Open events, in Madrid and Rome, are still to come, and there are plenty of miles to run on the red clay yet. But confidence boosts are always healthy. And both of these two prefer to enter a tournament blowing hot rather than cold. 

While Li Na could only manage the runners-up trophy in Stuttgart, her predecessor as Roland Garros champion earned her first piece of trophy cabinet-wear in just under a year, defeating Lourdes Dominquez Lino to win the Morocco title without dropping a set. Many have wondered why Schiavone would continue to consign herself to a series of demoralising defeats at the age of 32, when she has a Grand Slam champion's purse to retire with, but her recent success proves that there are titles left in her legs yet. 

If Schiavone's Morrocan moment may be one of the last of her career, Lukas Rosol, who so infamously upset Nadal at Wimbledon last year, collected his first, defeating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in Bucharest. It was another answer for the doubters, those who had pondered whether the Czech could ever repeat the lights-out tennis that so flattened Nadal. But, especially in the wake of his father's death 11 days earlier, Rosol proved determined not just to be a man for the upset. 

With the top players on a break for a week while their fellow pros do battle (it is clay, after all), in Oeiras (ATP and WTA) and Munich (ATP), next on the agenda is Madrid and the Magic Box. But no blue clay. Not this year. 

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