Nadal cements his reputation as king of clay


Rafael Nadal's assault on the history books shows no sign of slowing down. Seven days after winning a record eighth Monte Carlo Masters title in succession, the king of clay yesterday claimed the Barcelona Open for the seventh time in the last eight years. In doing so, he became the first man in the Open era to win two tournaments seven times.

Nevertheless, the world No 2 had to work hard for the 48th title of his career and his 34th on his favoured surface. Nadal beat his fellow Spaniard, David Ferrer, 7-6, 7-5 in a final that lasted more than two hours and 40 minutes. It was Nadal's 34th win in a row in the Catalan capital and extended his extraordinary record at this time of the year. He has now won 77 matches in succession on clay in April.

Nadal had lost only 16 games in his first four matches in the tournament and in winning the final he took the number of sets he has won in succession at the event to 32. However, the 25-year-old Majorcan was pushed hard by Ferrer, who had a fine week after recovering from a poor start to his European clay-court season in Monte Carlo.

Ferrer had five set points in the first set but failed to take any of them. Nadal, who went on to win the tie-break 7-1, also had to break Ferrer's serve to stay in the second set. Having done so to level at 5-5, he won the next two games as well to take the match. It was Nadal's fourth victory over Ferrer in the Barcelona final and his 14th in their 18 meetings on all surfaces.

"Without doubt it was my most difficult match since the start of the clay season," Nadal said. "I think that David more than deserved to win this title."

Victoria Azarenka has been the outstanding player on the women's tour, but the world No 1 was beaten by Maria Sharapova in yesterday's final in Stuttgart. Sharapova won 6-1, 6-4 to claim her first title of the season and avenge defeats in the Australian Open and Indian Wells finals to Azarenka.

Azarenka, who has won four titles already this year, had treatment for a wrist injury at the start of the second set. Sharapova said: "[Azarenka] was injured today. Maybe she could not perform well, but I'm happy to be the champion here this year."

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