One month away from Roland-Garros, Rafael Nadal is still there.
The world number 3 ended the nine-game winning streak of Stefanos Tsitsipas, whom he beat in the final at Barcelona (6-4, 6-7 (8/6), 7-5), winning for the twelfth time on Catalan clay.
His first title of the season.
Nadal, who won the tournament for the first time in 2005, won after a battle lasting more than 3 hours 30 minutes, after saving a match point.
Tsitsipas, fifth in the world, had a first Masters 1000 title a week ago at the Monte-Carlo tournament.
A tournament that Nadal had left from the quarter-finals.
“It means a lot to me to play the final here and to win.
I improved my level throughout the week and this trophy represents a lot ”, reacted the Mallorcan who had to fight in the previous rounds, in particular in the quarterfinals against the Japanese Kei Nishikori to whom he had also yielded a set.
61 clay court titles
Nadal accumulates records.
With 12 victories in Barcelona, he is far ahead of the Romanian Ilie Nastase (4 wins) and a group of three players with 3 titles: the Australian Roy Emerson, the Spaniard Manuel Orantes and the Swedish Mats Wilander.
The Spaniard also consolidates his status as record holder for victories on clay with 61 titles against 49 to Argentinian Guillermo Vilas.
"It's an everyday job, accepting the challenge, remaining humble when sometimes you don't play so well and you have to fight and find solutions every day", added the Spaniard who will still be a favorite at Roland-Garros (May 30-June 13) which he has already won 13 times and where he will celebrate his 35th birthday.
Faced with Tsitsipas, one of the most fit players of the moment, who won last Sunday on the Monegasque rock against the Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal alternated the very good and the less good, broken at the start of the set, in the 1st as in the 2nd.
But each time, as a pure landman, never releasing any point, the Mallorcan returned.
Seeming to gain the upper hand in the first set, he saw Nadal return who won the set (6-4) after 59 minutes.
The 2nd set seemed a carbon copy of the 1st but Tsitsipas tightened the game, saved two first match points that Nadal got in this round, to win in the decisive game (8/6) and afford a 3rd round.
At the end of a third act of epic new and 3:38 of match, Nadal, despite his almost 35 years, showed that he was still the strongest on ocher earth.