Reinvigorated Nadal wins ninth Barcelona Open crown, equals Villas’ clay court record

Rafael Nadal beat defending champion, Kei Nishikori, 6-4, 7-5 to win the Barcelona Open for the ninth time on Sunday, equalling Guillermo Vilas’ record of 49 career clay court titles.

Nadal added this title to his trophy from Monte Carlo Masters last week as the 14-time Grand Slam winner regains form on his favourite surface ahead of next month’s French Open.

Nishikori had won the tournament for the last two years after early exits by Nadal.

In an entertaining clash of the two top-seeded players, Nadal proved more decisive under pressure, saving seven of eight break chances in the first set while converting the two chances he got.

Playing with that kind of authority that once made him almost unplayable on European clay, Nadal looked poised for a comfortable victory until Nishikori broke back in the second set to make Nadal dig deep.

He would not be denied, though, sealing victory after two hours when Nishikori slapped a forehand into the net.

Nadal, who will target a 10th French Open title next month, had not won back-to-back titles since 2013,

He expressed his happiness: “I think I served well which was very important. The fact I had a good percentage of first serves allowed me to play better.

“In the second set I let a lot of opportunities go, but I am very happy to have resisted mentally and happy to win.”

He and Argentine legend, Vilas, have both won 49 clay court titles and Nadal will be confident of edging ahead when he moves on to Madrid and Rome before Roland Garros.