Tennis

Nadal has red-letter day on red clay

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal of Spain bites the trophy after he won the Barcelona Open.
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP)

All those months of hard work and rehab are starting to pay off for Rafael Nadal. Yet he is still not sure what this means for the French Open.

Nadal won the Barcelona Open for the eighth time Sunday, defeating Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 6-3 for his fourth title of the year.

And with French Open about a month down the road, this latest victory is a promising sign that Nadal is getting back to full strength from a knee injury that sidelined him since last summer

''I am very happy,'' he said. ''It has been an important week for me to win here again and a great source of joy after everything I have been through.''

He has made six straight finals since returning from his knee injury. This title, the 54th of his career, comes one week after his eight-year reign at Monte Carlo ended with a loss to top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

''With just these six tournament since I have returned, I have managed to assure my place in the top 10 one more year, which is positive,'' said Nadal, who is ranked No. 5. ''These months of work have been worth it.''

Even so, Nadal was hesitant to say how this might carry over to Roland Garros, where he has won a record seven times.

''This win doesn't mean much,'' he said, ''just that I am in good form since I have come back. The results are fantastic. I would never have imagined them, and they are better than I had dreamed. I am back playing at a high level.''

After trailing 3-0 in the first set, Nadal found his form and broke his fellow Spaniard in three of his next four service games to take command in a final played in a drizzle.

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Nadal won the Barcelona Open from 2005-09 but did not play in 2010 because of a knee injury. He has won every year since. He has won 39 straight matches on the red clay at Real Club de Tenis, his last loss coming 10 years ago to Spain's Davis Cup captain, Alex Corretja.

''I didn't know in 2005 that I would win again or that in 2013 I would still be winning,'' Nadal said.

Almaro, ranked 12th, has lost all 10 of his matches to Nadal. He enjoyed a good start Sunday and broke Nadal's first service game with a forehand winner before holding serve to love.

Almagro kept Nadal moving with deep backhands. He broke again for a 3-0 lead following a long rally when he swatted a running crosscourt return. But Nadal then showed why he hasn't lost in Barcelona in a decade, reeling off four straight games.

''It was important for me to get the break, down 3-0,'' Nadal said. ''Almagro is having a great season, and I wish him the best.''

Almagro was serving and up 30-0 when he made a series of errors, including a double-fault that brought the score to three games apiece. Nadal took control by breaking Almagro a third time. Down 0-30, Nadal saved a point by returning a lob with a shot from between his legs before Almagro dropped the game and set.

In the second set, Nadal maintained the pressure and broke to lead 3-1. Nadal served out the match to love, and he was soon applauding the fans who had cheered both players.

''He showed again why he is the best player in history on this surface,'' Almagro said, adding he'll try to win the title next year ''if Rafa lets me.''

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