Rafael Nadal defeats Kei Nishikori for record-tying 49th title on clay

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Another week, another set of records for King of Clay Rafael Nadal.

After tying the records for Masters 1000 titles and outdoor titles last week in Monte-Carlo, Nadal beat Kei Nishikori, 6-4, 7-5, to win Barcelona for the ninth time, ending Nishikori’s bid for a three-peat in the process.

With the victory, Nadal claims his 69th trophy overall, his 49th clay title, tying the all-time record of Guillermo Vilas,  and his 67th outdoor title, snapping the tie he created last week with Roger Federer. He adds to his own Open Era record of being the only nine-time winner at any event, having now done so at three tournaments (Roland Garros, Monte-Carlo, Barcelona).

The match played out as one might expect with two elite returners on clay. Nearly every service game was put under siege and no lead was safe, with Nishikori erasing a 1-3 deficit in the first set and 1-4 in the second. Nishikori was the slightly better player in patches, but in accordance with their respective careers, Nadal was significantly better under pressure. For example, he saved 7/8 break points in the first set converted both attempts of his own.

Nishikori made a valiant comeback in the second set, even saving a match point to extend the match, but Nadal wore him down and broke the next time around as Nishikori served to force a tiebreaker.

As for the big picture, Nadal is up to No. 2 in the year-to-date points race and has narrowed the gap to 875 points of catching Stan Wawrinka for the No. 4 ranking (the current number is smaller but Nadal will lose more points in the next few weeks than Wawrinka). He’ll likely need to win either Madrid or Rome in order to pass Wawrinka before the French Open.

In Sunday’s other finals:

— Angie Kerber defended her title in Stuttgart, the first time in her career she’s gone back-to-back at particular event. She beat fellow German Laura Siegemund, 6-4, 6-0, winning the final 10 games of the match. A few points shy of regaining the No. 2 ranking from Aga Radwanska, Kerber bolstered her lead in the year-to-date standings. She leads Victoria Azarenka by roughly 500 points, with Radwanska and Serena Williams a distant third and fourth. The best week of her career lifts Siegemund from 71 to 42 in the rankings.

— Weather forced the Bucharest final between Fernando Verdasco and Lucas Pouille to be delayed until Monday.

— The Bryan Brothers won their second title of the month as they try to get back on track. After winning in Houston, they beat the Spanish duo of Pablo Cuevas and Marcel Granollers, 7-5, 7-5, to win Barcelona for the third time (2003, 2008).

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