Rafael Nadal beats Kei Nishikori in Barcelona Open final
By Mark Crellin
Last Updated: 27/04/16 9:39am
Rafael Nadal's resurgence continued as the top seed beat Kei Nishikori 6-4 7-5 to claim the Barcelona Open title for the ninth time in his remarkable career.
And the Spanish great has now equalled Guillermo Vilas' record of 49 career clay-court titles.
Nine times a French Open champion, Nadal was not at his best on his favourite surface last year but now appears to be right back on song ahead of his next tilt at Roland Garros glory in May.
Having landed the title in Monte Carlo last week, he continued his winning run despite a gutsy effort from Nishikori, who was seeking to win in Barcelona for the third year in succession.
Invariably good to watch, Nishikori took the attack to Nadal throughout, using a mixture of beautiful ground strokes and clever drop shots to cause his opponent problems.
But Nadal's trademark forehand was in fine working order, and he mixed glorious winners with brilliant defence to emerge triumphant.
Nishikori was unable to convert a couple of early break point chances and then found himself 3-1 down after a pair of unforced errors.
The second seed broke straight back though but, crucially, failed to convert three break points at 3-3.
And it was Nadal who ended up taking the opening set, helped by a bit of luck, as he broke in the 10th game when an attempted pass hit the net cord and looped over a stranded Nishikori.
Nishikori came from 40-0 down to break in the first game of set two but Nadal then appeared to take control, breaking twice himself and holding serve after an epic fifth game that went to deuce six times, putting him 4-1 in front.
But Nishikori was determined not to relinquish his title and he 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 Nadal, and the Spaniard made it back-to-back titles for the first time since 2013 when Nishkori sent a tired forehand into the net.
Having claimed a 69th career title, Nadal said: "I was playing against the number six player in the world and, if you don't play at your best, you aren't going to win
"I served well and that allowed me to play better. In the second set I missed several chances and at the end it was very close, but I stayed mentally strong."