Nadal hails 'unbelievable' climb back to No. 1

AFP
Rafael Nadal described as "unbelievable" his climb back to the world No. 1 spot for the first time in three years and confirmed in the latest ATP rankings released on Monday.
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Reuters

Spain's Garbine Muguruza poses with the Rookwood Cup after defeating Simona Halep of Romania 6-1, 6-0 in the women's final of the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, on August 20, 2017.

Rafael Nadal described as "unbelievable" his climb back to the world No. 1 spot for the first time in three years and confirmed in the latest ATP rankings released on Monday.

The Spaniard, who learned he was going to reclaim the ATP summit a week ago, last topped the men's charts in July 2014.

The 31-year-old Spaniard, who won his 15th Grand Slam title this year at Roland Garros, deposes Britain's Andy Murray, who withdrew from the tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati with a hip injury.

Nadal, who has spent 141 weeks in the top spot, has struggled with knee injuries since first becoming No. 1 in August 2008 after a Cincinnati semifinal run. He has admitted doubting he could ever regain the No. 1 spot after so many years.

"Being No. 1 after all the things that I have been going through the last couple of years is something unbelievable," the Spanish great told the ATP.

Nadal, knocked out in the Cincinnati quarterfinals last week by Australian Nick Kyrgios, had slipped to as low as 13th in the ATP rankings midway through 2015.

And his path back to the top one week before the closing Grand Slam of the season at the US Open was hailed by Chris Kermode, ATP executive chairman and president.

"To regain the No. 1 ranking nine years after having first reached it is unprecedented," he said.

"Rafa has been setting records throughout his remarkable career and this one is as impressive as any. It shows incredible dedication and longevity, and we congratulate him on this amazing achievement."

Kyrgios's progress to Sunday's Western & Southern Open final in Cincinnati earned him a five-rung rise to 18th with the man who beat him, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, breaking into the top 10 in 9th.

The women's winner in Cincinnati, Garbine Muguruza of Spain, meanwhile, climbed three places to third in the latest WTA rankings.

The Wimbledon champion beat Simona Halep 6-1, 6-0 in Sunday's final, that defeat thwarting the Romanian's bid to overhaul Czech Karolina Pliskova as world No. 1.

On Sunday in Mason, Ohio, Muguruza cradled her smiling face in both hands and closed her eyes, taking it all in. The Wimbledon champion had added another title to her breakthrough summer, The Associated Press reported.

Muguruza defeated Halep for her first Western & Southern Open title on Sunday, needing only 56 minutes to extend her run of success. She also denied Halep yet another chance to move up to No. 1 in the WTA rankings.

"Honestly, I was thinking in her situation, it must be difficult," Muguruza said. "But I wanted to win the title as well."

On the men's side, seventh-seeded Dimitrov beat Kyrgios 6-3, 7-5 for his first ATP Masters title, emerging from a bracket decimated by injuries to top players.

Muguruza won her first title in the United States and her second of the year, along with Wimbledon. In three tournaments since, the Spaniard has at least reached the quarterfinals. Now it's on to New York for the US Open, where she's got a history of disappointment.

"The tough matches never go my way, so I want to change that," she said. "I want to find the recipe this year."

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Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria returns a shot to Australian Nick Kyrgios en route to his 6-3, 7-5 victory in the men's final of the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, on August 20, 2017.

It was a big disappointment for Halep — the third time this season that she needed one more win to move up to No. 1 and couldn't get it. She came up just short at the French Open and Wimbledon, and had it in the back of her mind the last few weeks.

Perhaps that had something to do with the poor showing.

"Maybe I feel the pressure and I don't realize it," Halep said. "Maybe I just played bad. I don't know what to say. But it's still there. I still have a chance, so I will work for it and maybe one day it will be there."

Halep also finished as the runner-up at Cincinnati in 2015, losing to Serena Williams. She brought a lot of momentum into this final title match. The Romanian is fully healed from a knee injury that limited her early in the season, and she didn't lose a set all week until Sunday, when she was never in the match.

Muguruza broke her to go up 2-0 in the first set and was in control. Halep won only 12 points in the set, which lasted 23 minutes. Muguruza broke her again to open the second set and faced only two break points all match.

"When I feel on court that I got dominated a little bit — I felt that I cannot control the points — and that's maybe why I got a little big down in my confidence," Halep said.

When it ended, Muguruza congratulated Halep and walked around the court with her smiling face cradled in both hands. Then she put her hands over her heart and reached toward the applauding crowd.

The women's bracket was missing Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova. Muguruza knocked off defending champion Pliskova 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals.

The men's bracket lacked Roger Federer, Murray, Novak Djokovic and defending champion Marin Cilic because of injuries. Dimitrov took advantage and won a title with his steady serve — he was broken only once all week.

Kyrgios had only two break chances and failed to convert either during the 1-hour, 25-minute final. Neither player had reached a Masters title match until this week. Dimitrov said his shoulder felt heavy as he sensed the moment and served out the match.

"In moments like that, it's so difficult," Dimitrov said. "There's so many things going through your head. Today there was a lot more on the line for me so yeah, the weight was a bit more."

Kyrgios was delighted to reach a final after a hip injury prompted him to quit several matches this summer, including at Wimbledon.

"Where I was three weeks ago — it wasn't good at all — and now I'm in a Masters final," Kyrgios said. "That's a very Nick Kyrgios thing to do. I don't know. It's crazy."

In New Haven, Connecticut, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia and Alize Cornet of France won first-round matches at the Connecticut Open on Sunday.

Cornet beat Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan 6-0, 6-0, and Lucic-Baroni overcame 11 double faults and held off Anett Kontaveit of Estonia 6-7, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.

Cornet was added to the main draw, along with Katerina Siniakova, after injuries knocked out Timea Bacsinszsky and Samantha Stosur. Cornet was a semifinalist at the 2008 Connecticut Open and reached the last 16 at the French Open in June. She will face No. 2 seed Dominika Cibulkova in the second round.

Defending champion and top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, the only player in the field ranked in the top 10, received a first-round bye. Three-time Connecticut Open champion Petra Kvitova is the No. 3 seed.

American Sloane Stephens withdrew on Sunday due to a wrist injury. She has been replaced by Christina McHale, who lost a third-round qualifying match to Jana Cepelova.

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