Nadal equals VIlas’ record in Barcelona
This era’s clay-court king matches legend
RAFA NADAL made history at the Barcelona Open yesterday by claiming his 49th clay-court title with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over defending champion Kei Nishikori.
The Spaniard’s success saw him equal Guillermo Vilas’ career tournament tally on his favoured surface and continued a recent revival that has seen the 29-year-old hit top form ahead of his bid to claim an historic tenth French Open crown at Roland Garros next month.
“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. When you play against players with such a high level, the match is often decided by a few moments. So I feel happy that I handled all these important moments well mentally.”
After losing to Fabio Fognini in the round of 16 last year, Nadal blamed his poor forehand. A year later, all Nadal’s power was back on display, driving forehand strokes past Nishikori when it really mattered.
Nadal had seized the initiative in the early stages, breaking in the fourth game for a 3-1 lead following a barrage of his trademark big forehands. Nishikori, triumphant in the Catalan capital in the previous two years, demonstrated his grit to draw level, but it was his Spanish opponent who broke decisively to take the opening set 6-4.
The Japanese player bounced back in the opening game of the second set, coming from 40-0 down to break but Nadal then appeared to take control, breaking twice himself and winning on serve after an epic fifth game that went to deuce six times, putting him 4-1 in front and holding a seemingly insurmountable lead.
The pendulum swung back, however, and Nishikori, determined not to relinquish his title, reeled off three games in a row, saving four break points in game eight to level at 4-4. And the World No 6 from Japan again showed his class under pressure when he faced a match point at 4-5, pulling out an audacious drop shot to stay in the match.
However, two games later he found himself 15-30 down after Nadal’s superb defence proved key, the Spaniard eventually taking a point he had no right to win with a volley into open court.
A weary Nishikori then put a tricky smash long to set up two championship points for the hometown favourite, and the Spaniard made it back-to-back titles for the first time since 2013 when Nishkori sent a tired forehand into the net to end the contest after a little over two hours.
“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.”
The World No. 5’s latest victory followed on from his unprecedented ninth crown at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters last week and confirmed the Majorca-born star’s return to the sport’s top tier after a succession of injuries over the past few years.
The 14-times Grand Slam winner, a nine-time champion at Roland Garros, is the only player to win as many titles in a single tournament in the Open Era. Argentine Vilas, whose record Nadal equalled with victory in Barcelona, won 49 clay-court titles in the 1970s and early 1980s.
This era’s dominant clay-court force has the chance to surpass Vilas’ figures in May and stand alone as the recordholder for titles on the sport’s slowest