MADRID – Roger Federer left a lasting impression on the Madrid Open’s controversial blue claycourt by grinding out a 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory against Czech Tomas Berdych to match Rafa Nadal’s record of 20 Masters titles Sunday.
Spaniard Nadal, who fell in the third round and will lose his No. 2 ranking to his great Swiss rival, was one of the most vocal opponents of the new surface, which he said was dangerously slippery.
Federer, however, proved better able to adapt to the testing conditions and secured his fourth title of the season, and the 74th of his illustrious career, after edging a gripping final at the futuristic Magic Box arena.
Earlier, a fired-up Serena Williams sent out a warning to the young pretenders of women’s tennis when she powered to a crushing 6-1, 6-3 victory over world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to win the crown. The 30-year-old former No. 1, seeded ninth at the premier clay event in the Spanish capital, made the most of Azarenka’s nervous start on the blue dirt of the Manolo Santana show court to race into a 4-0 lead.
After breaking the Belarussian’s serve for a third time to clinch the first set, Serena turned the screw with another break early in the second and clinched victory on her first match point when Azarenka completely missed an attempted return.
It was the American’s second title of the year after her success on the clay at Charleston last month and her 41st singles crown overall, putting her in joint 13th on the all-time list with Belgian Kim Clijsters.
Federer came into the tournament following a month-long rest and is looking in ominous form as the world’s top players prepare for the French Open starting in Paris later this month.
The 2009 Roland Garros champion had already won titles this year in Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells and has only lost three times since falling to Djokovic in the US Open semifinals last September.
Nadal and world Novak Djokovic have both have threatened not to return next year unless the traditional red dirt used at most other clay events is reinstated.
Organizers argue that the blue courts make it easier for television viewers to follow the yellow balls but the players’ complaints may prompt the ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis, to switch back to red clay next year.