BUENOS AIRES: Rafael Nadal beat Juan Monaco on Sunday to win the Argentina Open, claiming his first title since Roland Garros last year and nabbing a slice of tennis history as well.
Nadal’s 6-4, 6-1 victory gave him the 46th claycourt title of his career, tying him with Guillermo Vilas for the most titles on the sandy surface in the Open Era.
It was Nadal’s 65th career crown on all surfaces, moving him into sole possession of fifth place on the Open Era all-time list led by the 109 titles of American Jimmy Connors.
Most importantly, it showed Nadal is headed in the right direction.
The Spaniard, who battled injury last year after winning his ninth French Open, exited early in Qatar and fell in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open in January.
He had fallen to fourth in the world after a semi-final loss to Italian Fabio Fognini in Rio de Janeiro last week, the first time he hasn’t figured in the top three since August 2013.
With this win, he’s projected to return to third in the world, again overtaking Britain’s Andy Murray.
“I’m coming off a season that has not been easy — injuries, accidents,” said Nadal, who had to cope with wrist trouble and an appendectomy in 2014.
“The beginning of this year has been a bit tricky after some time out, but little by little we have found positive feelings.”
The 28-year-old left-hander needed one hour and 26 minutes on court to notch his sixth victory over Monaco in as many meetings on clay.
But the players had to wait out a two-hour rain delay before the match, and another 55-minute delay after both held serve for 1-1 in the opening set on the still slippery court.
“It was a tough day in the rain because no one knew what was going to happen,” Nadal said. “I am very thrilled to win here. From the first day I trained my best to achieve this goal. I’m very happy. I leave here with an unforgettable feeling and memory.”
After securing a tight first set with a break of serve in the seventh game, Nadal stormed through the second.
He broke Monaco twice en route to a 4-0 lead, then broke him again in the final game, clinching the win on his first match point when Monaco sent a forehand long.
Nadal, playing in the Argentinian capital for the first time in a decade, didn’t face a break point in the contest before a packed crowd that included Vilas and David Nalbandian, the last Argentinian player to win the Buenos Aires title.
He was handed the trophy by Argentinian Gaston Gaudio, the 2004 French Open champion.