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Nadal and Serena serve up ominous form in Madrid

Serena Williams with her trophy in Madrid
by Stuart Appleby
Monday 13 May 2013

Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams sent out timely reminders to their respective rivals that they remain the players to beat on clay this season as both champions stormed to titles in Madrid.

The two-time Wimbledon champion, playing on his favourite surface on home soil, dispatched Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2 6-4 in the final, without dropping a single service game. Despite only returning to the ATP World Tour in February following a long lay-off with a knee injury, the 26-year-old has wasted little time in recapturing his best form.

Nadal's title success in Madrid, his fifth tournament win, seventh final, and seventh tournament of the season, comes only two weeks before he defends his French Open crown in Paris.
On paper, at least, the task of facing an in-form Wawrinka, who went into the final on a nine-match winning streak, was a tough assignment. But not for Nadal. The world No.5 entered the contest with a 8-0 head-to-head recorecord in his favour against the Swiss, and in truth, Wawrinka never really looked like turning the tide in his direction for the first time.

Striking an assortment of bruising strokes off both wings from the back of the court, Nadal tied up the first set at the Caja Magica in just over half an hour and showcased the attacking, aggressive tennis we have come to expect from him every time he strides out onto the red dirt.

In all fairness to Wawrinka, who now returns to the world's top 10 for the first time in five years, he did manage to stem the flow of Nadal's momentum in the second set, and on another day, he could well have taken the match into a decider. Nadal, as ever, though, had other ideas and saw the set and match out in just 72 minutes.

Wawrinka has long been in the shadow of his compatriot, Roger Federer and the maestro's achievements, but 2013 could be the year when the talented shotmaker really makes his mark on the Tour.

In reaching his seventh straight final since his return from the sidelines, it certainly looks like Nadal is peaking at the right time, in a period of the season which has always been his priority

Perhaps most noticeable, however, is Nadal's remarkable hunger to improve further. He may have already won virtually all of the rewards and accolades on offer in the game, but his opponents should be warned, that on this evidence, he's far from done yet.

"Now that he has played more and more, he is getting back to that level but even if he hasn't played, his level is a long way ahead of the rest of the pack. Its very impressive his consistency and its interesting to see if he can maintain this," Andy Murray commented in Rome. 

Next up for Nadal is defending his title in Rome, an opportunity for more matches, and more wins, as Roland Garros draws ever nearer.

Serena Williams meanwhile produced a similarly emphatic display to defeat Maria Sharapova 6-1 6-4 and successfully defend her title in the Spanish capital. Retaining the world No.1 ranking as a result, it was not only Serena's 50th career singles title, it was also her first on red clay since 2002.

Having bustled through the first set 6-1 in a very business-like manner, Serena's concentration wandered early in the second, and Sharapova tried to take advantage. But Serena bounced back quickly, registering her 13th straight win over her Russian rival, and becoming only the 10th WTA player to reach 50 career singles titles, behind Martina Navratilova (167), Chris Evert (154), Steffi Graf (107), Margaret Court (92), Evonne Goolagong (68), Billie Jean King (67), Lindsay Davenport (55), Virginia Wade (55) and finally Monica Seles (53).

"It feels good," Williams said. "I don't know how many more I can win. Like I say every day, 'Who knows if I'll ever win another title?' I just want to live in the moment and the dream every chance I get. I feel like every moment I play - I don't know if it's because of what I went through - I feel like I'm so fortunate to be out there and healthy and to have an opportunity to play a sport and be really good at it.

Ending Sharapova's 21-match winning streak on clay, Serena also has the curious distinction of becoming the only player to win clay court titles on three different colours of clay - green, blue and red.

Like her fellow champion, next up for the defending Wimbledon champion is Rome. "I want to do well here, and to do well means to win," she said on arrival at the Foro Italico.

One thing remains true of both Nadal and Serena: they are just getting better.   

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