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Melbourne Summer Set: Nadal wins first title in Australia since 2009

  • Dan Imhoff

Victory tastes sweeter when it comes via the long route and after 13 years Rafael Nadal is savouring just his second title on Australian soil as the Melbourne Summer Set champion.

Nadal’s 89th career singles title came via a 7-6(6) 6-3 triumph over American qualifier Maxime Cressy on Sunday night in the Spaniard’s first tour event since he called time on last season in August due to a left foot injury.

The only previous occasion the 20-time major champion had sunk his teeth into a champion’s trophy Down Under came at Australian Open 2009.

His first hard-court title since Acapulco nearly two years ago came even sweeter on the court named after one of his idols.

“(There have) been tremendously challenging moments and everybody's making big efforts to make this happen so I feel privileged, a very lucky guy to be here again,” Nadal said.

“I'm coming back from some challenging moments in terms of injuries, so I can't be happier today. 

“It means a lot to be back with a trophy in my hands after everything… This court has been always very, very special for me. I've enjoyed unbelievable moments here. The name of this court – Rod Laver Arena – is very, very special for everyone… A lot of emotions I enjoyed here.”

While Nadal had been tested for a set in each of his first two outings against Ricardas Berankis and Emil Ruusuvuori, neither possessed Cressy’s firepower on serve, or his ability to take time away from opponents.

After a career-best win over third seed Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals, the Paris-raised American was pressed on the possibility of facing Nadal in his first ATP final and he didn’t hesitate.

“I have the game to beat him,” he said.

After a nervous start, he soon showed why, particularly with his relentless serve-volleying, which helped fend off all five break points in the opening set.

The pair could not be split as they headed to a tiebreak before Nadal fired a costly double fault at 5-all to hand his opponent a set point on serve. 

The top seed rifled the subsequent return to catch an outstretched Cressy unable to land the volley and it was the only invitation he needed to snatch momentum and with it, the first set.

Yet to conjure a break point, the 112th ranked Cressy finally did at 1-all in the second set and duly converted, but consolidation proved elusive.

Nadal lifted a gear and reeled off five of the last six games as he closed out his 1031st career match win after an hour and 44 minutes.

Cressy had already assured his top-100 debut courtesy of his breakout run this week, which included a win over second-seeded compatriot Reilly Opelka.

Following his maiden ATP final, he only wanted more.

“First time playing in this kind of environment for me and I've been honoured to play Rafael Nadal. I've been dreaming of these moments of playing on big stages my entire life and it's finally happening again,” Cressy said. 

“I know it's not easy to play a serve-and-volleyer these days, especially now that they're gone.”

He presented a throwback opponent of sorts for Nadal and praise was reciprocated for the 24-year-old. 

“I'm sure your style will prevail,” Nadal said. “I really believe that’s something new again that you bring to the game.”