Rafael Nadal made an emotional homecoming to the Barcelona Open and picked up his 12th title at the event along the way.
The Sunday showdown with last week’s Monte Carlo winner Stefanos Tsitsipas, which Nadal finally won 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-5, turned into the longest three-set match since records began being kept in 1991.
The 3:38 epic was full of drama, with Tsitsipas saving two match points in the second set while Nadal salvaged one for his opponent in the third round before finally salting away the record trophy.
Due to COVID, the event was not held in 2020 but was staged this week with a limited number (1,000) of masked spectators in the stands of a court named in honour of Nadal.
“For me, the simple fact of being able to play in Barcelona after last year’s tournament wasn’t held means a lot to me,” Nadal said.
“After almost a year of not being able to experience playing in front of a crowd, these are incredible feelings.
“I really appreciate the love and support you all have shown me throughout my career. Playing in my club and in front of fans means a lot.”
Tsitsipas swigged from a bottle of ceremonial champers in the trophy ceremony – but the bubbly could not compensate for his close call while holding the chance to inflict a Barca finals defeat on Nadal for the first time in the Spaniard’s dozen appearances.
“The game never ends until the last point,” the Greek second seed said. “You always have to do something extra, and more against Rafa.
“I had a chance to win the game and I think I could do better. You have to be focused at all times and keep playing until the point is completely finished.
“He is a born competitor, more than any other player.”
Tsitsipas added: “Today I went out on the court looking for victory and I was close. I had my chances,
“I’m happy to have been so close. Really, I was within an inch of winning the game.
“Luck also played a role in this match.”