Barcelona Open 2011: Rafael Nadal secures sixth title
Rafael Nadal beat David Ferrer for the second time in as many weeks to win a sixth title in Barcelona
The extraordinary Rafael Nadal cannot stay out of the tennis headlines. At every turn, he is ticking off more records and this week, at Spain’s oldest tennis club, the prestigious Real Club de Tenis Barcelona-1899, has been no exception.
Nadal already owned a replica trophy in recognition of his five consecutive wins in Barcelona -2005 to 2009. Now, at the event that began life as the International Championships of Spain, Nadal faced down David Ferrer, just as he had done last week in the Monte Carlo Masters, in an attempt to get his name on this trophy for the sixth time.
The No4 seed Ferrer’s unenviable task, just as it had been in Monte Carlo, was to bring almost two years of Nadal supremacy on clay to an end.
The uphill task was made all the more challenging by the knowledge that he had not only failed in his mission last week but had also failed in two previous finals at this very tournament: in 2008 and 2009.
But Ferrer, one of the fittest, most tenacious and committed players on the tour, was still enjoying a good run of form and, like Nadal, had not dropped a set all the way to the final.
He had also put up a sterling fight against Nadal in Monte Carlo’s denouement with some great attacking play. Had his serve not let him down so badly, he was close to taking the champion to a deciding third set.
However, the odds looked stacked against Ferrer before the Barcelona final had even begun when he walked onto court with some major strapping on his left calf. And as soon as play got under way, it was also clear that Nadal had worked himself into even finer form than he had shown the previous week.
He broke Ferrer’s two opening service games with identical forehand bullets down the line to quickly lead 4-1. Although Ferrer pulled one break back, he conceded a further break with a fearful volley into the net, leaving Nadal to serve out, 6-2.
Nadal looked home and dry when he immediately broke Ferrer in the second set with yet another whiplash forehand down the line to lead 2-0. But then Ferrer rediscovered the attacking game that had almost won the second set in Monte Carlo.
Helped by some better serving -up to 73 per cent -he worked his fast-improving volley skills along with some searing off-forehand winners to break twice, and led the set 4-2. Then came a pivotal seventh game.
Ferrer found himself in a volley exchange at 40-A and was outmanoeuvred by the lightning quick reactions of his opponent. The break of serve returned the reins to Nadal, who needed no further invitation and won the next three games and the match, 6-3.
Had fortune favoured the brave, perhaps Ferrer -showing signs of a slight limp by the end of the match -would have become the first victor over Nadal on clay in 34 matches. As it is, Ferrer can still look at his 13-2 win-loss record on clay this year and know that he has came closer to Nadal than anyone on the red dirt.
For Nadal, the win takes him to a 29-match unbeaten record at the event and keeps the number of sets lost since his 2003 debut in Barcelona to just two.
He has played in four consecutive finals and, in the process, has ticked off more records than you can shake a stick at.
In Monte Carlo, he became the first man to win a tournament seven times in a row and, incidentally, notched up his 30th clay court title. During Barcelona, he reached the 500th win of his career -the second youngest player after Bjorn Borg to do so. He also became the first man in the Open era to win two tournaments at least six times.
None of this will inspire confidence in Ferrer or any of the other men who face the prospect of meeting this unstoppable clay force just as Madrid, Rome and Paris appear over the horizon.
However, Nadal now has to repeat the perfect run he produced during the 2010 clay season to guarantee his place at No1 in the coming couple of months.
As champion in the big three tournaments ahead, he has 4,000 points to defend while Novak Djokovic, who has been resting a knee injury since adding to his 2011 unbeaten record in Miami, has just 540. And Nadal will have 2,000 more to defend at Wimbledon.
The 500 points gained this week in Barcelona will certainly help his campaign to be No1 at the end of the year but, due to the vagaries of the ATP ranking system, he cannot add the points until the Washington 500 in August.
So the real fun may only just be starting: 2011’s unbeaten man on clay up against 2011’s unbeaten man on the hard courts fighting for the No1 spot as early as Wimbledon. That’s some prospect.