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Nadal, Barty back to winning ways on clay

  • Matt Trollope

Rafael Nadal and Ash Barty were among the clay-court champions at the weekend after four tournaments concluded on Sunday.

Nadal claimed an incredible 12th Barcelona title with a thrilling win over the in-form Stefanos Tsitsipas, shortly after Barty beat Aryna Sabalenka in three sets to triumph in Stuttgart. 

It marked Nadal’s first clay-court title of the season, while it was Barty’s first red-clay tournament since she won the Roland Garros title in 2019. 

Also notching tournament titles were Matteo Berrettini, who overcame Aslan Karatsev for the Belgrade trophy, and Sorana Cirstea, who captured her first WTA title in 13 years with an upset victory over No.1 seed Elise Mertens in Istanbul.

Karatsev had stunned world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Serb’s home tournament, avenging his loss to Djokovic at the same stage of AO 2021.

Nadal reigns again in Barcelona

There was an element of revenge in Nadal’s win too, given he had let slip a two-sets-to-love lead in his quarterfinal loss to Tsitsipas at Melbourne Park

He had also looked rusty a week earlier in a quarterfinal exit at the Monte Carlo Masters, a tournament Tsitsipas went on to win.

Having rediscovered some form at the Barcelona event with a stadium court bearing his name, Nadal earned two championship points when leading Tsitsipas 6-4 5-4. 

Yet the Greek – who led 4-2 in the first set and 3-1 in the second – staged a dramatic comeback, recovering from 4-2 down in the subsequent tiebreak to send the final to a deciding set. 

He even earned a match point of his own in the 10th game of the third, before Nadal ultimately triumphed 6-4 6-7(6) 7-5. 

Nadal’s victory ended Tsitsipas’ streaks of nine straight matches and 17 consecutive sets won.

"Rafa, bravo. How many is that, 28?” Tsitsipas joked. "Twenty-eight Barcelona titles is not bad, I'm really jealous."

Nadal, with an eye towards peaking at Roland Garros where he is chasing an incredible 14th title, said his Barcelona title was important “for the future”.

"I think I never played a final like this in this tournament, so it means a lot to me against a player like him, (after what) he achieved in Monte-Carlo and (that he reached) the final here without losing a set," Nadal said. 

"It is an important victory for me. I think I have been increasing my level during the whole week and this victory confirms it.”

Barty brilliant in Stuttgart

Barty, meanwhile, claimed her third title of 2021 and has now won her last 10 matches against top-10 opposition. 

Despite dropping the first set against the big-hitting Belarusian, Barty’s patience and variety began to wear down Sabalenka, who became increasingly error-prone and seemed to struggle with a thigh injury.

Barty reeled off nine straight games to take control of the final, which she eventually won 3-6 6-0 6-3.

Seventh-ranked Sabalenka was playing for a 10th career title, but instead it was Barty capturing her 11th, while strengthening her hold on the world No.1 ranking.

She also won the doubles title, with Jennifer Brady. 

"This week’s been phenomenal for me," said Barty, who earlier in the week beat top-10 players Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina.

“I’ve certainly felt like I’m taking my tennis to kind of a new level, in a sense of being able to be calm and play with freedom and play without consequence in a way, just going out there and try to bring my best every single point."

Titles for Berrettini, Cirstea

Another WTA champion this week was Cirstea, who last tasted tournament success when she won the 2008 Tashkent title as a teenager. 

Romania’s Cirstea did not drop a set in Istanbul, seeing off rising stars Anastasia Potapova, Fiona Ferro and Marta Kostyuk before stunning world No.16 Mertens 6-1 7-6(3).

"I’m very, very happy for this trophy," Cirstea said. "I did not expect it, to be honest, so probably I’m twice as glad.”

Berrettini, the second seed in Belgrade, won his fourth career title with a 6-1 3-6 7-6(0) win over Karatsev.

The four matches he won in Belgrade were Berrettini’s first victories since he withdrew ahead of his AO 2021 fourth-round match with Tsitsipas due to an abdominal injury.

"Today I proved to myself that I can fight and I can digest tough situations. I came back stronger,” Berrettini said.

"He deserved to be in the final, but I deserved it as well. In the end when you're in a final, it's who wants it more … or who is more ready, and I guess today I was better than him."