Sunday's 2013 Madrid Open final is now set, with the King of Clay Rafael Nadal set to take on Stanislas Wawrinka.
As the No. 5 seed, Nadal capitalized on the opportunities before him and easily disposed of unseeded Spanish compatriot Pablo Andujar, 6-0, 6-4, in the semifinals. That continues his impressive play after a seven-month hiatus due to injuries and illness, improving his season singles record to 31-2.
But Wawrinka is extremely talented and sports the type of stellar all-around game that translates well to the clay surface. Unfortunately, he will be facing who many argue is the greatest clay player in the history of tennis.
Just last week at the ATP Portugal Open, the Swiss standout toppled David Ferrer in the final, notching his first singles title of 2013. That form has clearly carried over to Madrid, where he beat superior seeds in his past two matches in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych.
Renowned tennis analyst Brad Gilbert is among many extremely happy for Wawrinka's recent surge, which has him in the Top 10 of the ATP rankings:
Brad Gilbert @bgtennisnation
great effort this week from Stan the Man and welcome back to top 10, for your door prize you get a shot at the King of clay Rafa in Spain5/11/2013, 7:29:13 PM
Finishing the deal in tournament finals has been a challenge for Wawrinka in the past, as his most recent triumph marked just the fourth time in nine attempts he came out on the winning end.
Whatever he's discovered in the past two weeks, though, seems to be working extremely well, and Wawrinka displayed a lot of mental toughness against Tsonga and Berdych.
In the Tsonga clash, Wawrinka dropped a second-set tiebreak, 11-9, but rebounded to win the decisive third set. A similar result occurred when he faced Berdych, as Wawrinka emerged victorious 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
It's going to be difficult to bat back any adversity against a player as resilient as Nadal, though. The 11-time Grand Slam champion is picking up plenty of steam leading up to the French Open, and in the midst of clay-court season, Nadal will take care of business in all likelihood.
While Wawrinka's nine consecutive wins are impressive, this marks Nadal's seventh straight final.
That's quite a stark difference. The fact that Nadal has nearly three times as many Grand Slams as Wawrinka does ATP titles shows the gap between the players—who are only separated by 10 seeds in this particular tournament.
It would be a slight shock if Wawrinka manages to win a set off Nadal—something he's never done before, per Tennis Channel—but he's playing as well as ever right now.
Even if Wawrinka nabs a set, Nadal is too good on this surface to not recover in time. Superior movement, incredibly heavy topspin and the ability to outlast anyone in a long rally will key his victory.
Wawrinka will have to take massive chances to change the discouraging trend of being dominated by Nadal, but typically, the harder Nadal's opponents press, the direr the consequences on the scoreboard.
With the fans sure to be pulling for him in his homeland, there shouldn't be a ton of resistance between Nadal and the trophy.
Note: All statistics and information, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com.