As Rafa Nadal sunk to his knees to acclaim his victory in the Hamburg Open on Sunday, the celebration seemed to be as much about relief as the joy of winning his third singles tournament of the year. The Spaniard beat Fabio Fognini 7-5, 7-5 in the final to ensure he maintains his record of winning a clay court event in Europe every year since 2004. He is also now just two short of Guillermo Vilas’ ATP tour record of 49 clay court titles.
The final certainly was not a tennis classic, featuring 87 unforced errors and 12 breaks of serve, but was no less important to Nadal considering he had lost to his Italian opponent on the clay of Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona earlier in 2015. Fognini did have two set points in the second set, but Nadal rallied to win his second Hamburg Open title, after he beat Roger Federer in 2008.
Nadal had opted to make his first appearance since his second round defeat at Wimbledon on clay, despite the impending rigours of the hard court season. Despite being the only player ranked in the top 20 in the tournament, all of his matches were against opponents in the top 50 as he saw off the challenge of Fernando Verdasco (41), Jiri Vesely (45), Pablo Cuevas (31), Andreas Seppi (26) and Fognini (32).
Nadal’s victory has seen him move up a place to ninth in the rankings, and with no points to defend between now and the US Open, due to his injuries at this time last year, he has a real chance of a further climb in the rankings and the possibility of a higher seeding at the year’s final Grand Slam. He will have to raise his game to achieve that though as the Hamburg Open is a 500 rated event, and his next two tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati are both 1000 level competitions, and will feature much stronger fields.
One particular aspect of Nadal’s game that will need to improve before Flushing Meadows begins at the end of the month is his serve. The Spaniard has always been more renowned for his blistering forehand, but in Hamburg he won only 62.6% of points from a successful first serve, compared to 62.9% from a successful second serve. Statistics like that will not stand up against the likes of Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
In fairness to Nadal, you would expect those numbers to improve as he regains match fitness in the next couple of weeks as he gets set to play in the US Open for only the third time in the last five years. He missed 2012 and 2014 due to injury, but reached the final in each of the other three years in that period. He lost to Djokovic in 2011, but beat the Serbian to take the title in 2010 and 2013, meaning the Spaniard has not lost a singles match at Flushing Meadows in nearly four years. Is he then value at up to 13/1 for US Open victory number three?
By: Grant Fisken