BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Rafael Nadal beat defending champion Kei Nishikori 6-4, 7-5 to win the Barcelona Open for the ninth time on Sunday, equaling Guillermo Vilas’ record of 49 career clay-court titles.
Nadal added this title to his trophy from Monte Carlo last week as the 14-time Grand Slam winner regains form on his favorite surface ahead of next month’s French Open.
“I’m very happy because besides this being one of the most important tournaments that I have won, this is another week that I am playing very well,” Nadal said. “These have been two fantastic weeks, weeks I have been striving for for a long time.”
Nishikori had won the tournament for the last two years after early exits by Nadal.
In an entertaining clash of the two top-seeded players, Nadal proved more decisive under pressure, saving seven of eight break chances in the first set while converting the two chances he got.
The Spaniard then bettered second-seeded Nishikori through several superb rallies in a back-and-forth second set to win key points and claim his 69th career title in his 101st final.
“I was playing against the No. 6 player in the world, and if you don’t play at your best you aren’t going to win,” the fifth-ranked Nadal said.
Besides matching Vilas’ Open Era milestone from the 1970s and 1980s, Nadal added Barcelona to his list of tournaments he has won a record nine times, along with Roland Garros and Monte Carlo. No other player has won a tournament nine times.
“This is truly special, I don’t know if it is repeatable,” Nadal said about his records. “If I have done it, it is possible, but it will be truly difficult. I have won titles nine times, and won so many titles on clay and in tough tournaments. I am very satisfied for Barcelona to join this group of nine.”
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.
Playing near their best, both top-10 players never let the other settle in while serving.
Level at 3-3 in the first set, Nishikori had three break points, but Nadal saved them all by winning five straight points.
Nadal earned a second break to claim the first set when the Spaniard won with a shot which clipped the top of the net.
Nishikori immediately responded by rallying from 0-40 down to break Nadal’s first service game of the second set.
Nadal answered with a hard-fought game — which included two superb rallies won by the home favorite at the net — to recover the break.
Nishikori got back in the match after Nadal misjudged a ball that he thought was going wide when he could have smashed it. The ball fell in, and Nishikori broke Nadal with an unreachable drop shot for 4-3.
Nishikori then landed another risky drop shot to save a championship point and make it 5-5, but Nadal claimed victory two games later when the Japanese sent the ball into the net.