x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Rafael Nadal's running in top gear since comeback from knee injury

The Spaniard once again looks the part of master when stepping on clay, writes Gary Meenaghan.

Rafael Nadal beat Nicolas Almagro to secure his fourth title this year in as many months. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo
Rafael Nadal beat Nicolas Almagro to secure his fourth title this year in as many months. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo

Moments after slipping to a straight-sets defeat to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Barcelona Open on Sunday evening, Spaniard Nicolas Almagro walked off the court and was asked about motorbikes.

Almagro had dominated the opening exchanges, breaking Nadal's first two service games to take an early 3-0 lead

Yet if there is one thing even the most casual tennis follower knows though, it is that Nadal, despite recently returning from a seven-month absence with a left-knee injury, must never be discounted.

The 11-time major winner rallied to win 6-4, 6-3 and bit the silver handle of the giant trophy for the eighth time in nine years.

Almagro instead was asked by a reporter how he had started like a motorbike. And credit to him, the 27 year old answered with a laugh: "Yes, well, the motorbike got stuck in the rain".

Nadal, as he has a tendency to do on his favoured clay surface, at times made his opponent look more like a 50cc moped than a souped-up Kawasaki superbike.

At one stage, he even won a lengthy rally with a shot played backwards between his legs. The spectators - also stuck in the rain - not surprisingly enjoyed it.

"Rafa has shown once again why he is the best player in history on this surface," said Almagro, who has now lost 10 consecutive matches against Nadal.

"He is one of the greats on the tennis circuit, and as Spaniards we are all very proud of him. I got a good start, but the surface was tricky, though that cannot serve as an excuse. Rafa was the fair winner. I'll have another go next year, and try to win it then if Rafa lets me."

The victory means Nadal became the first player to secure four titles this year, adding Barcelona to the tournaments he won in Sao Paulo, Acapulco and Indian Wells.

It will also have provided a boost following the private deflation of what proved a conclusive defeat to Novak Djokovic in last week's Monte Carlo Masters final.

The defeat to Djokovic raised whispers of doubt as to whether Nadal is genuinely ready to win at Roland Garros. While he had defeated world No 2 Roger Federer in Indian Wells, Djokovic, the world's top-ranked player, had proved too good at Monaco.

With four weeks to go until the start of the season's next grand slam, time is on his side. And the wheels are in motion to secure an enormous 12th major.



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