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Nadal battles past Thiem to claim fifth Madrid Open

By Eleanor Crooks

Rafael Nadal was made to work hard before claiming his fifth Mutua Madrid Open title with victory over Austria's Dominic Thiem in last night's final.

Nadal extended his record on clay to 15-0 this season with a 7-6 (10/8) 6-4 win in La Caja Magica, securing a 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown to equal the record held by world number two Novak Djokovic.

Nadal will be confirmed as the new world number four, replacing 18-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, when the new rankings come out on Monday.

After beating Djokovic in the semi-finals, Nadal could have been forgiven for expecting a somewhat easier contest against Thiem, who was playing in his first Masters 1000 final.

However, the 23-year-old claimed the first break of serve for a 2-1 lead in the opening set before Nadal got back on terms in the sixth game, with Thiem then saving three set points at 5-4 down on his way to forcing a tie-break. Thiem saved two more set points in the breaker before sending a forehand over the baseline to give Nadal the upper hand, which the 30-year-old consolidated with a break of serve in the first game of the second set.

After saving two match points on his own serve in the ninth game, Thiem had four chances to break back as Nadal served for the title, but the left-hander would not be denied and eventually sealed victory after two hours and 18 minutes.

Third seed Simona Halep successfully defended her Mutua Madrid Open title with a 7-5 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 victory over France's Kristina Mladenovic.

Despite visibly struggling with a back injury, Mladenovic bravely fought back from a set down to push Halep over the distance but eventually she ran out of steam.

In Rome, main draw action got under way in the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Sunday with home favourite Fabio Fognini among the players moving into the second round.

Fognini needed just 70 minutes to beat wild card and fellow Italian Matteo Berrettini 6-1 6-3 and set up a clash with world number one and top seed Andy Murray. Murray's fellow Briton Dan Evans lost 6-3 6-1 in the first round to Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic, but compatriot Aljaz Bedene came through qualifying thanks to a 6-3 6-4 win over Argentina's Renzo Olivo.

American John Isner caused the upset of the day by defeating 14th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-7 (4/7) 7-6 (7/4) 6-1 in round one, while Fernando Verdasco only needed 69 minutes to beat Donald Young 6-3 6-3.

Meanwhile, the organisers of the Mutua Madrid Open have been criticised for inviting Ilie Nastase to Saturday's award ceremony. Following Halep's final victory over Kristina Mladenovic, her fellow Romanian and Fed Cup captain Nastase appeared on court in Madrid and was photographed with the world number eight. Nastase is currently serving a provisional suspension by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) as a result of his behaviour during April's Fed Cup tie against Great Britain.

The 70-year-old former French and US Open champion made an apparently racist comment about Serena Williams' unborn baby and repeatedly asked British captain Anne Keothavong for her room number during press conferences before the tie. He then launched foul-mouth abuse at Keothavong, British number one Johanna Konta and tie referee Andreas Egli, causing Konta's match to be briefly suspended as she left the court in tears, and also confronted Press Association Sport tennis correspondent Eleanor Crooks on two occasions.

ITF chief executive Steve Simon remarked on Saturday: "The only shadow cast on the day was Mr Nastase's invitation to participate in today's award ceremony. He had no place on court today. He is currently under a provisional suspension by the ITF for his prior offensive actions and we revoked his credential privileges at WTA events while the investigation is being completed. It was both irresponsible and unacceptable of the Madrid Open to bestow him an official role."

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