Rafael Nadal returned from a troublesome back injury to win the Rio Open on Sunday, defeating Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 7-6 (3).
Nadal’s victory comes four weeks after he lost the Australian Open, beaten in that final by underdog Stanislas Wawrinka after tweaking his back while warming up.
Nadal, who had to fend off two match points in the semifinal against Pablo Andujar, looked more comfortable in the final and improved his record on clay to 298-21, the best in the Open Era.
Dolgopolov has lost all five matches against Nadal.
In the women’s final at the combined ATP-WTA event, Kurumi Nara of Japan defeated top-seeded Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 to win her first WTA singles title.
The top-ranked Nadal used the Latin American clay-court swing to launch his comeback a year ago from a left knee injury. It went just fine with titles in the French and U.S. Open.
He’ll take the same approach this season, hoping injuries don’t slow him as he looks for his 14th Grand Slam title in the French Open in three months.
Nara, the 22-year-old Japanese, was seeded fifth in the tournament and is Japan’s top-ranked woman at No. 62. She prefers to play on hard courts but has adapted to the heat and clay in Rio.
“I love Rio,” Nara said, cracking a huge smile. “I can’t believe I won the tournament, but I am very happy.”
The victory is projected to push Nara into the top 50 when the WTA publishes its rankings today.
“I don’t want to think too much about being No. 1 in Japan,” Nara said. “I just want to focus on my game — every game.”
Nara said she thrived in Rio and said Japanese players are getting better on clay because a new clay-court facility has been built in Japan.