Rafa Nadal became the first player in the open era to win two tournaments seven times when he fought off tenacious Spanish compatriot David Ferrer 7-6 7-5 to win a thrilling Barcelona Open final on Sunday.
In a repeat of last year’s title match and 10 years to the day since he made his World Tour debut, Nadal came out on top in a claycourt slugfest between the nation’s two best players that wowed the capacity crowd in the Catalan capital.
The world No 2, fresh from clinching a record eighth straight Monte Carlo Masters crown last week, claimed the giant Conde de Godo trophy for the seventh time in eight years with his 34th straight win at the event.
It was the 25-year-old French Open champion’s 48th career title and his 34th triumph on his beloved clay.
“Without doubt it was my most difficult match since the start of the clay season,” Nadal said in an interview with Spanish television.
“I think that David more than deserved to win this title and I really wish him the best for the rest of his career.”
Sixth-ranked Ferrer went toe to toe with his Davis Cup teammate in a closely-fought first set but failed to convert five set points on his opponent’s serve when leading 6-5 and faded badly to lose the tiebreak 7-1.
Meeting Nadal for a fourth time in the Barcelona final and chasing an ATP-best fourth title this year, he looked spent at that stage but after losing his serve to fall 3-1 behind managed to conjure the energy to break back.
He then drew on all his famed stamina and tenacity to carve out a 5-4 lead but again failed to convert when it counted and Nadal produced probably the shot of the tournament to help break the Ferrer serve and level at 5-5.
He just managed to get a racket on a Ferrer drive to lift the ball high over the net before anticipating his opponent’s smash and playing a miraculous return that surprised his opponent into offering up a simple volley.
That appeared to be the final straw for Ferrer and Nadal reeled off the next three games, sealing victory with a backhand winner before leaping into the air to celebrate.
“David always takes you to the limit and I really had some good fortune in that first set,” he said.
“When you have five set points against you and you save all of them obviously there is a good deal of luck involved,” he added. “It was something of a lottery but it came down on my side and I am sorry for him but very happy.”
An exhausted-looking Ferrer, who has managed only four wins against Nadal in 18 meetings on all surfaces, paid tribute to his compatriot, with whom he now heads to the capital for the Madrid Open starting on Friday.
“Rafa is Rafa and he is very good,” Ferrer told Spanish TV.
“I have lost four times to him here in the final now but I know I have lost to one of the greats,” added the 30-year-old.
“He is a very good player and as a person even better.”
Nadal made his ATP Tour debut at the Mallorca Open aged 15 on April 29, 2002, beating Paraguay’s Ramon Delgado 6-4 6-4 in the first round.
He is now only six short of Thomas Muster (40) on the list of open era clay title winners, with Guillermo Vilas the overall leader (45).
The only players to have beaten him in a clay final are world No 1 Novak Djokovic and No 3 Roger Federer, who have both done it twice.