Rafael Nadal saved a championship point and wasted two of his own before securing a remarkable victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas for his 12th Barcelona Open triumph on Sunday, one which makes him the world No 2 once more as he overtakes Daniil Medvedev.
Top seed Nadal won 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 7-5 in front of a delighted Spanish crowd, who witnessed the longest ATP Tour main draw match of the season thus far, at a packed-out Real Club de Tenis Barcelona.
The match spanned over three-and-a-half hours and Tsitsipas, the world No 5, showed tremendous fight and had a match point saved in the third set as he sought to add to his Monte Carlo Masters success from last week.
He ultimately fell short to Nadal, however, with the 20-time Grand Slam champion making more history on a centre court named after himself (Pista Rafa Nadal).
Exactly 16 years to the day he defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero at the age of 18 for his first Barcelona title, Nadal stretched his record as the competition’s most successful ever entrant.
In the sport’s Open Era, only Mats Wilander and Manuel Orantes (both three titles) come even remotely close to the Manacor-born superstar at this tournament, where he is now a 12-time champion.
In winning, Nadal also got revenge on Tsitsipas for his loss in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open back in February as a repeat of the 2018 Barcelona Open final went the same way.
Unlike 2018 when he dropped just three games in a one-sided final, Nadal’s 87th career title did not come without an almighty fight.
Monte Carlo champion Tsitsipas battled hard in pursuit of just his seventh ever title and a third victory over Nadal.
He saw off two championship points to break Nadal in the second set and after the Spaniard saved three break points on his service game, Tsitsipas held his own serve to force a second set tiebreak.
The Greek won that tiebreak 7-6, coming from 4-2 down to force a third set with the fans at the ATP 500 event treated to some sensational tennis from the two.
That meant for the first time since 2010 there was to be a deciding set in the Barcelona final, with it also the first time since 2008 that Nadal had been taken to three sets in the final of the event.
But Nadal rallied in the third set, one dominated by serve, and after over three hours and 38 minutes hours broke Tsitsipas and served out for the title despite his opponent’s spirit.
Nadal saw off Ilya Ivashka, Kei Nishikori, Cameron Norrie and Pablo Carreno Busta before beating Tsitsipas on his way to his first tournament triumph of the 2021 season.
He will replace Medvedev as the second-ranked player in the world behind Novak Djokovic when the rankings are updated on Monday.
The ‘King of Clay’ now prepares for the Madrid Open and the Italian Open before looking to clinch a 14th French Open in Paris.
The defending Roland Garros champion is unsurprisingly the hot favourite for the season’s second Slam, particularly after Djokovic was stunned in the Serbia Open semi-finals by Aslan Karatsev.
The world No 1, who won the Australian Open earlier this year, was also upset in Monte Carlo by Great Britain’s Dan Evans in the round of 16.
Nadal reached the quarter-finals of that same event in Monaco only to lose to Andrey Rublev, the Russian world No 7. Tsitsipas, 22, won the tournament by defeating Rublev in straight sets.