Rafael Nadal confirmed his return to classic championship clay form as he beat Kei Nishikori 6-4, 7-5 yesterday to claim a record ninth title at the Barcelona Open.
The contest, which lasted just over two hours, marked the resurgence of Spain’s 29-year-old king of clay, after he won Monte Carlo a week ago for a ninth time.
The victory denied Japan’s second seed Nishikori the chance to join Nadal and Mats Wilander as the only men to have lifted the trophy at the Real Club de Tenis over three consecutive years.
Asia’s best player last lost at the event in 2013 when he went down to Spain’s Albert Ramos in the third round.
Nadal had only one ace in a final in which ATP number six Nishikori did much of the attacking, with the Japanese setting up 13 break points. But he was only able to convert on three while Nadal went five-for-12 in that statistic.
Nadal’s triumph at his home club sets him up nicely for the remaining month until the May 22 start of the French Open, with Masters 1000 clay dates at Madrid starting next week and Rome the week after still to come.
Nadal has now won his last nine matches while Nishikori had 14 on the trot at the tournament after winning the last two editions.
Nadal pulled level with Guillermo Vilas on 49 career clay titles, the all-time record; the Spaniard owns 69 trophies from 101 finals.
Nishikori fought hard to hold off the Nadal onslaught on the clay after dropping the opening set in 50 minutes.
The second seed broke to start the second set but immediately lost his next two serves as Nadal reached 3-1.
Nishikori broke back for 3-4 and saved four break points in the next game for 4-all. But Nadal put an end to the fightback with a break in the final game to claim the victory.
Both Nadal and his opponent came to the final without having lost a set all week; Nadal now stands 9-1 in their series.
The match marked the first time since 2008 that the top two seeds played the Barcelona final when Nadal defeated David Ferrer.
Spain’s king of clay now stands 9-0 in Barcelona finals and has now won nine titles in three events: Monte Carlo, Roland Garros and Barcelona.