HAMBURG • Spaniard Rafael Nadal went some way in regaining his form on the comfort of clay yesterday, claiming his 67th career tennis title with a 7-5, 7-5 victory against Fabio Fognini in the final of the Hamburg Open.
The 14-time grand slam champion has endured an indifferent season, winning just two titles in Stuttgart and Buenos Aires prior to yesterday.
He even endured shocking losses on his favourite clay this year - two of those against Fognini in Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona.
But the world No. 10 gained his revenge yesterday for his first European clay-court success this season.
"I think it's been a great final, a very tough one which was up and down so I hope the people enjoyed it," he said before wincing and laughing through cramps on the podium. "Coming back to Hamburg after eight years was a big challenge for me but very exciting. I'm very happy to be here with the title."
World No. 32 Fognini, who won the Hamburg crown in 2013, broke Nadal's opening service game in a 12-minute tussle, setting the tone for an intense baseline battle.
The Spaniard, whose previous air of invincibility on clay has begun to evaporate, hit just six winners and 15 unforced errors in an evenly-contested opening set. But he was also aided by Fognini's 34 unforced errors and broke three times in the first set.
Nadal then appeared to have gained the upper hand early in the second when he broke en route to a 3-1 lead.
Fognini roared back with successive breaks to move 4-3 ahead and served for the set at 5-4 but Nadal saved a set point to claw it back to 5-5 and held for a 6-5 lead.
Fognini was unable to take the match into a tie-break and succumbed to defeat when he blazed a forehand long, before a clearly emotional Nadal fell to his knees and saluted the crowd after the final point.
The Italian eighth seed played his part in an entertaining final, hitting 39 winners to Nadal's 19.
The victory provided a much-needed confidence boost for Nadal with a month to go till the US Open. He lost in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and Roland Garros before he was shocked in the second round of Wimbledon by qualifier Dustin Brown.
Nadal will next head to the hard courts of the Montreal Masters to prepare for the year's final Grand Slam.REUTERS