Rafael Nadal is remarkably now a perfect seven-for-seven this year in reaching ATP finals. After seven months off to rehab a bum left knee, Nadal has stormed back to the circuit and to this point may be playing the best, most consistent tennis of anyone. Tomorrow the Spaniard seeks a fifth title of 2013 against surprise finalist Stan Wawrinka in the Madrid final.
“Five months ago I could not have dreamed of everything that has happened during these past few months,” Rafa said. “It’s almost a dream to be back in another final at home here in Madrid.”
After a shaky win over David Ferrer yesterday, Nadal had no problems today with countryman Pablo Andujar, crushing his countryman 6-0, 6-4 in 77 minutes. Rafa hasn’t looked particularly great this week in the altitude, but after a disappointing 2012 tournament he’s done what he’s needed to to get back to the title match in Madrid.
“I’ve only played seven tournaments [and] I don’t know if I’m going to be able to compete to win Roland Garros,” said Nadal. “I don’t know it today. The only thinking I have is that how I [have] played until now has been really good. The results have been really positive.
“Today I’m enjoying my path to the final in one of the most important tournaments in the world. We go step by step, week by week even when we get to Roland Garros.”
Wawrinka had a much tougher path. He went three sets to beat Grigor Dimitrov on Thursday, another three last night in a good win over JW Tsonga and today again went the distance to turn away 2012 finalist Tomas Berdych 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
Berdych actually led 4-2 with breakpoints for 5-2 in the final set but the Czech crumbled as he so often does.
“Tomas is a tough player to beat, he was serving really good, putting a lot of pressure,” said Wawrinka who’s playing in his second Masters final after 2008 Rome. “Down 4‑2, two break points to save…I was saying to myself that I should do everything to win that game, to put pressure on him. I know that sometimes if you show him that you’re going to be there again and again, sometimes [he’ll] make a mistake.”
How much will fuel will Stan have against Rafa? He’s one of the fittest guys on the tour and the way he’s been playing this year I think he should be fine. Except for the fact that Nadal has won all eight meetings with the Other Swiss.
“Rafa is the best player on clay. He’s such an amazing player, he is really tough to beat, especially on clay,” said Wawrinka. “For me, it’s the ultimate challenge to play him in final in Masters 1000 in Spain. That’s something amazing, and I cannot dream for a better final.”
Stan has won his last nine matches including the Estoril title and has a game that should fair well against Rafa. But as usual with Stan, mentally he needs to be sound because he won’t have much support from the crowd on Sunday.
“For sure it’s going to be 100%, except my coach,” Stan said of the support he expects. “After [a] great tournament, to play Rafa on clay, it’s something amazing, and I’m going to take that challenge and try to play my best game tomorrow.”
Nadal is of course the favorite, but has we have seen he still doesn’t look like his old, punishing self. Wawrinka, who’ll return to the Top 10 Monday, has been playing some of the best tennis of his career, so while I expect Nadal to win I think it could go three.
In the women’s final, it’s the two best players on the WTA bar-none colliding in what I hope will be a preview to the French Open title match. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have been head and shoulders above the pack the last four months of the year and now they resume their rivalry on the third different surface in the last year.
“I look forward to it,” Serena said of playing Maria. “I feel like this whole tournament I’ve only played clay court players from my first round to now, and everyone was also smaller than me. So I think tomorrow will be a really good match – a different game, more power obviously, but still a lot of the consistency. So I’m looking forward to it.”
In this bitter rivalry – we know they don’t like each other – it’s been all Serena 12-2 winning 11 straight including grass at the Olympics last year. But Maria did have a rare stranglehold on her rival in Miami before she got stomped in three.
“It’s always tough against her,” Sharapova said. “I haven’t had a win against her in a long time, but the great thing is that I’m really setting myself up in a position where I can try to change that around.
“I thought I really well against her in Miami for the first set and a half – obviously that’s not enough, but the goal is to keep that level for the whole match this time and open up my chances, take my opportunities. It’s been a while since we played on a clay court, too, and every match is different.”
Serena will be going for her 50th career title. Sharapova, who just won her 500th match today, will return to the No. 1 ranking should she prevail. Both players have surprisingly won 27 of their last 28 matches on the dirt.
Tennis Channel has coverage of both finals live starting at 7am ET.
SUNDAY MADRID SCHEDULE
MANOLO SANTANA start 10:50 am
 B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs  A Peya (AUT) / B Soares (BRA) – ATP – Doubles Final
Not Before 1:00 PM
 S Williams (USA) vs  M Sharapova (RUS) – WTA – Singles Final
Not Before 4:00 PM
 S Wawrinka (SUI) vs  R Nadal (ESP) – ATP – Singles Final
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