After victory in São Paulo, Acapulco and Indian Wells, Rafael Nadal took his fourth title in his sixth consecutive final since coming back from injury earlier this year as he won the Barcelona Open on Sunday.
The Mallorcan beat his countryman Nicolás Almagro 6-4, 6-3 in a rain-spattered one-hour-and-32-minute match. It was his eighth title in nine years on the Catalan clay and 39th straight match win there — he last lost in Barcelona as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in 2003 when he was knocked out in the second round by Àlex Corretja.
“You have to accept that Rafa in a monster on this surface,” Almagro recognized after the match.
After losing his eight-year grip on the Monte-Carlo title to Novak Djokovic the previous weekend, Nadal looked close to his best in the Catalan capital last week since returning from seven months out with an injury to his left knee in February.
“It was a very positive match,” he said of his semifinal win over Canada’s Milos Raonic on Saturday. “I really understood how to play Raonic and I carried it out with very few errors, changing the rhythm with backhand cuts, passing shots that are back working again and dominating the points.”
You have to accept that Rafa in a monster on this surface”
Things did not begin well for the world number five in Sunday’s final, however. Almagro — who had reached the showdown without dropping a set — broke him twice in the opening games to ease into a 3-0 lead.
But then the rain started falling and the Murcian asked for play to be suspended. Nadal disagreed and the umpire concurred.
The match continued but something had changed. Aggressive and precise until then, Almagro lost his serve in game four, only winning one more game in the rest of the set.
He was still competing in set two, but Nadal had found his rhythm and it wasn’t enough to prevent the world number 12 from succumbing to a 10th defeat in 10 matches against his countryman.
“I am very happy, it has been a very important week for all the Spaniards and for me,” said Nadal. “To be able to win here again is a great joy and cause for excitement.
“Things could not be going better,” he added.
The next two challenges for man from Manacor are the Madrid Masters, which begins in a week’s time, followed by the French Open, the second Grand Slam of the year, where he will aiming for an eighth title.
Despite the defeat, Almagro said he was happy with his performance: “Matches like these are the ones that make you grow and looking to the future I hope it can help me,” the 27-year-old said after his first final at the Barcelona 500 tournament.
“My tactics were correct. The only thing is you have to know how to maintain them in order to beat Rafa.”
A former top 10 player — he reached the number nine spot in 2011 — Almagro believes he is capable of beating the best. But for the moment, he isn’t managing to do it. As well as 10 defeats to Nadal, he has lost five times to Roger Federer, 13 to David Ferrer and beaten Andy Murray just once in four meetings. That is why he has yet to win a Masters 1000 event or get beyond the quarterfinal stage of a Grand Slam. But while he is yet to make the big leap and lacks consistency, he feels he has the quality to do so:
“I need to keep on working day after day to beat Rafa and keep on fighting so as never to surrender,” he said. “The mentality is what it is. I was very concentrated, I feel very privileged.”