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Rafael Nadal has won a tour-level title in 18 consecutive seasons.

Nadal: ‘I Have Room To Keep Improving’

Spaniard reflects on 12th title run in Barcelona

If Rafael Nadal’s epic final victory against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell on Sunday was not a strong enough message to his ATP Tour rivals, the Spaniard made it clear in his post-match press conference that he is capable of achieving greater results in the remainder of this year’s European clay swing.

Nadal saved a championship point against Tsitsipas to earn a memorable 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-5 victory on Pista Rafa Nadal, ending the Greek’s unbeaten start to the clay season. Tsitsipas entered the championship match with a 9-0 record on clay in 2021, and had won all 17 sets he had played on the red dirt this year.

“It is important for me. It is important for my confidence. It is important for the title, by itself,” said Nadal. “It is an important title in my career, achieving another ATP 500 {title] and, additionally, one of the best ATP 500s in the history of our sport with a big tradition in Barcelona. It is great.”

“I think I have been able to play better and better during the whole week [in] every single match and today was a little bit better than yesterday. I have room to keep improving. I was not perfect,” said Nadal. “I really believe that I can play better than what I am doing on clay and I really hope that the victory of today is going to help me to raise a little bit [my] level that I need today to fight for the next couple of events that I am going to play.”

One of the most impressive aspects of Nadal’s victory was his ability to outlast Tsitsipas in the longest best-of-three-set ATP Tour final since statistics started being tracked in 1991 (3h38m). The Spaniard was competing in just his third tournament of the season, after recovering from a back injury ahead of last week’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

“I have not been able to play a lot of competitive matches for the past couple of months. It is true that matches like today make me feel better physically and more ready for the long battles,” said Nadal. “I felt quite well on the court about my physical performance. I have been working hard at home to be ready for this stuff.”

Nadal also took a moment to praise his opponent, who was seeking his first ATP 500 title. The top seed also defeated Tsitsipas in the 2018 championship match and has been impressed by the 22-year-old’s development over the past three years.

“He is a player that plays with a lot of passion. He is young. He feels the sport,” said Nadal. “He has the talent and the motivation to be better and better, so it is normal that he is improving in all aspects of his game. He is one of the candidates to win every single tournament that he is playing.”

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It is 18 years since a 16-year-old Nadal made his tournament debut in Barcelona in 2003 and 16 years since he first lifted the trophy at the tournament. During his career, the 34-year-old has compiled an extraordinary 66-4 record at the event, which renamed its Centre Court after him in 2017.

Nadal will now turn his attention to another home tournament — the Mutua Madrid Open — which will take place from 2-9 May. The 35-time ATP Masters 1000 champion is a five-time titlist in Madrid, with his most recent triumph coming in 2017.

“It means a lot to me [to win the title]. It is difficult to imagine something like this 10 or 15 years ago, but here we are,” said Nadal. “I went through some tough moments during all my career in terms of injuries but I always held the passion and the love for the sport to keep going.

“It is true that I had a great team and a great family next to me that has been so important for holding the passion and the motivation and [they have] helped me in the low moments. I am super happy to be where I am today. It is an important achievement for me and an achievement at the right moment of the season. Another week is coming, playing at home in Madrid, and I am excited about that.”

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