CINCINNATI — Rafael Nadal extended his sizzling summer with a first-time title. One set away from a breakthrough of her own, No. 1 Serena Williams wilted.
Nadal took advantage of the few openings he got against John Isner on Sunday, grinding out a 7-6 (8), 7-6 (3) win at the Western & Southern Open that added yet another title to his sensational summer.
The 27-year-old Spaniard won the championship in Montreal a week ago and has back-to-back hard-court championships for the first time in his illustrious career. He’d never even reached the finals in Cincinnati.
When his backhand down the line finished it off, Nadal flopped on his back and screamed.
“It means a lot winning two straight titles on hard (courts),” Nadal said. “It’s just amazing for me. I never did something like this in my career.
“So it was an emotional moment.”
Williams had never won a Cincinnati title, either. Like Nadal, she was trying for her second championship in two weeks, fresh off her championship in Toronto.
She dominated the first set, then fell apart, giving No. 2 Victoria Azarenka a chance to rally for a 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6) win that ended Williams’ 14-match winning streak. It was reminiscent of their finals match at the U.S. Open last year, when Williams took the last four games to win 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
The week in Cincinnati provided a preview for the U.S. Open, with the men’s bracket more jumbled at the top.
“I would say Rafa is the favorite going to the U.S.,” Isner said. “Clear-cut? I wouldn’t say that. I think he’d probably say the same.
“If you compare maybe him and Serena, I think Serena is probably a more clear-cut favorite on the women’s side than Rafa is on the men’s side, but he certainly is going to be super tough to beat considering he just won back-to-back Masters events on hard courts.”
At the moment, nobody’s got more going for him.
Nadal’s five Masters titles this season are a career best. He’s tied with Novak Djokovic for most Masters titles in a season since 1990. He’s won seven of the nine Masters events during his career.
Nadal has dominated the tour after overcoming a knee injury that sidelined him for the last part of 2012. The win on Sunday gave him a career-best mark of 53-3 this season. He’s reached the finals in 11 of his last 12 tournaments, underscoring his consistent excellence.