Rafael Nadal Barcelona

Spain’s Rafael Nadal poses with the trophy after winning the ATP Barcelona Open tennis tournament singles final match against Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Real Club de Tenis in Barcelona on April 25, 2021. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

World number two Rafa Nadal said his grueling 6-4 6-7(6) 7-5 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Barcelona Open final on Sunday could prepare him for long battles ahead in the European claycourt season.

The 34-year-old, who claimed a record-extending 12th Barcelona title, suffered a back injury in Melbourne earlier this year before he was beaten by Tsitsipas in the Australian Open quarterfinals.

Following a spell out on the sidelines, the 20-time Grand Slam champion returned to action at Monte Carlo this month, going out in the quarters.

But the Spaniard, who will be looking for a 14th French Open crown when the claycourt Grand Slam begins on May 30, showed he was returning to his battling best on Sunday, saving a match point before going on to winning his first title of 2021.

At three hours and 38 minutes, it was the longest best-of-three-set ATP Tour final since statistics started being tracked in 1991, the governing body of men’s tennis said.

“I haven’t been able to play a lot of competitive matches for the past couple of months. It’s true that matches like today make me feel better physically and more ready for long battles,” Nadal told reporters.

“I think I’ve been able to play better and better during the whole week in every single match and today was a bit better than yesterday. I have room to keep improving. I wasn’t perfect.

“I really believe I can play better than what I’m doing on clay and I hope that the victory is going to help me to raise a little bit my level that I need to fight for the next couple of events that I’m going to play.”

Nadal will next be in action at the Madrid Open in early May.


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