Rafa's nadir ends with record Barcelona claycourt title

BARCELONA • Rafael Nadal maintained his ominous claycourt form by seizing back tennis' Barcelona Open title from Japan's Kei Nishikori with a 6-4, 7-5 victory on Sunday, matching Guillermo Vilas' record title haul on the surface.

A week after reclaiming the Monte Carlo crown, the 29-year-old Spaniard returned to another of his favourite hunting grounds to end Nishikori's two-year hold on the trophy and take his tally in the Catalan capital to nine.

Nadal has now won his opening 10 matches of the European clay-court season ahead of his quest to land a record 10th French Open in June.

"I have been working so hard to enjoy moments like this," Nadal said. "The fact that I'm playing at home is always even more special. I'm very happy and I feel lucky to enjoy this again."

Playing with the kind of authority that once made him almost unplayable on European clay, the Spaniard looked poised for a comfortable victory when he led 4-1 in the second set, but Nishikori broke back to make him dig deep.

Nadal would not be denied, though, sealing victory after two hours when Nishikori slapped a forehand into the net.

"It was a very close match," Nadal said.

"There were a lot of chances for both of us but I think I have been solid."

Nishikori was left to rue a series of missed break-point opportunities as the Japanese's 14-match winning streak in Barcelona came to an end.

Nishikori had made the most of shock Nadal defeats to claim the title in the past two years, but despite some stiff resistence in just over two hours on court, he slipped to a ninth defeat in 10 matches against the 14-time Grand Slam champion.

"I think I served well, which was very important. The fact I had a good percentage of first serves allowed me to play better," said Nadal.

"In the second set I let a lot of opportunities go, but I am very happy to have resisted mentally and happy to win."

Nadal, the world No. 5, had not won back-to-back titles since 2013.

He and former Argentinian great Vilas have both won 49 claycourt titles and Nadal will be confident of moving ahead when he moves on to Madrid and Rome before Roland Garros.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Rafa's nadir ends with record Barcelona claycourt title'. Print Edition | Subscribe