Japan's Nishikori, the 10th seed and one of the game's rising
talents, made a blistering start on Nadal's favored clay to win the
first set 6-2 and was a break up in the second and serving at 4-3
when disaster struck.
After a long rally with the score at 15-30, the Japanese pulled up
clutching his back and Nadal went on to win the game and the set 6-4
to force a decider.
In a tremendously disappointing finish to an entertaining encounter,
Nishikori could barely walk to the net to shake hands after Nadal
had raced into a 3-0 lead in the third.
"It was my hip and actually everywhere after the second set, my legs
were hurting too much," Nishikori, who came through a grueling
three-set semi-final against David Ferrer, told a news conference.
"It was very sad, especially as I was winning, playing almost the
best tennis in my life," added the 24-year-old, contesting his first
Masters 1000 final and fresh from his debut title on clay in
Barcelona last month.
"But there is some, you know, good side too. There is a lot of
confidence I get from this tournament."
The premature end to Sunday's showpiece left the jury out on Nadal's
form ahead of his bid for a record-extending ninth French Open
singles title when the clay grand slam starts at the end of the
His latest triumph, his fourth Madrid crown, was the 27-year-old
Majorcan's 63rd career title and 44th on clay, two short of
Guillermo Vilasís all-time record of 46. He has 27 Masters titles,
also a record.
However, he has struggled on the red dust this season, losing in the
quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and there is a sense
that his days as the king of Roland Garros may be numbered.
Certainly the way Nishikori dictated play in the early stages will
have set alarm bells ringing but Nadal still has this week's Rome
Masters to fine-tune his game before heading to Paris.
[to top of second column]
"There was some moments where, I don't know, I couldn't find
myself," Nadal told a news conference.
"It wasn't that I didn't want to play or I was missing intensity, I
was just mentally blocked," he added.
"When you're blocked, you just need a spark to go out there and
"I was just fighting because if I had the chance I was going to be
there to take it."
Asked about his prospects for the French Open, Nadal added:
"Well, much better, of course. Whenever you win in sport, well, it's
something basic. It's a vital part of sport.
"Even though I think that today I did a not so good first set, I
think I did a great tournament. This is the reality of the
(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Ed Osmond)
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