Rafael Nadal added yet another clay-court title to his resume, after he defeated Alexandr Dolgopolov in the Rio Open final 6-3, 7-6(3). It was the King of Clay's 43rd title on clay and 62nd title overall.
Rio was Nadal's first tournament since his back injury at the Australian Open. In the first round, he squared off against clay-court specialist Daniel Gimeno-Traver. It was a tricky first round opponent for Nadal after taking time off to recover.
However, he was able to pull out the win 6-3, 7-5. Here is what Nadal had to say after his first match, according to USATODAY:
"Daniel is a specialist on clay, so for me it was a great match after so much time off after the final in Australia because of the back problems, I practiced very little. So I was happy to get back, and get back with a victory."
Nadal clearly needed to get a warm-up match in before finding his groove. He cruised through his next two matches against Albert Montanes and Joao Sousa—dropping only four games in both matches combined.
Nadal faced off against Pablo Andujar in the semifinals. Andujar came out with the game plan to attack on everything and was executing that plan perfectly.
Andujar jumped out to an early lead, taking the first set 6-2. Of course Nadal came fighting back, as he always does, taking the second set 6-3.
The third set was a back and forth battle leading up to an epic tiebreaker. Both men fought off two match points, including a ridiculous half volley by Andujar when he was down 7-8. However, it was ultimately Nadal who came out victorious, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(10).
Andujar almost pulled off the upset, but Nadal stepped up his game when he needed to most. Even though he actually lost more points in the match (106-108), he won the key pressure points.
Nadal saved 11 of the 14 break points that he faced, and he also saved two match points.
Nadal always seems to find a way to win, even with his back against the wall. No one can match Rafa's mental toughness. He did not play his best tennis, but still willed out a victory. (highlights below)
Rafa faced Alexandr Dolgopolov in the final. Dolgopolov pulled off the upset win over David Ferrer to reach the final.
The final did not live up to the thrilling semifinal match, but it was not without a bit of drama.
Nadal won the first set 6-3 and looked to have the second set under control, up a break and serving it out at 5-4. However, Dolgopolov rose to the occasion and broke Nadal for the first time in their five career meetings. The Magic did not last in tiebreaker, as Nadal ultimately won 7-3. (highlights below)
Here is what Nadal had to say about the victory, according to atpworldtour.com:
Always when you win a title, it’s special. In a 500 tournament, you don’t have a chance to play a lot of these in the calendar. The first edition of a big tournament like Rio, it’s a very important city in the world, and after coming back from injury, it always makes the victory a little more special."
What's next on the schedule for Nadal?
Nadal is making a smart decision by taking this week off. He will want to be as close to 100 percent healthy as possible for the two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in March.
Rafa will try to defend his title at the first masters tournament, the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells). It will take place on March 6. He has also won the tournament on two other occasions.
After that, Nadal will try to breakthrough at the Sony Open Tennis, which starts in Miami on March 17. He has been a finalist three times in Miami, but he has yet to win the title.
Hopefully Rafa's body will be able to hold up over the next month. We have seen him suffer through injuries far too many times in his career. He was able to make it through this week, but the hard courts have always been the hardest on Nadal.
**All Stats from atpworldtour.com unless noted otherwise