Kei Nishikori joined an elite club of players comprising the likes of Rafael Nadal, Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl to successfully defend the Barcelona Open title in the Open Era.
The World Number five, who came into the tournament as the top seed, made short work of the local hero, Pablo Andujar, as he sauntered to a 6-4, 6-4 win to complete his second title defence this year. Nishikori had retained the Memphis Open crown earlier this year.
The final commenced on a rather anti-climactic note as both players squandered their serves in the first two games. However, both Nishikori and Andujar recovered from their early jitters, as each tested the other most severely. However, it was the defending champion who prevailed, as he broke the Spaniard in the 10th game of the first set to clinch the opening set. The last game of the first set was marked by some really powerful stroke-making by Nishikori, who upped the aggression a notch to take a one-set lead.
Far from being disheartened following the loss in the first set, Andujar struck back immediately, taking a break to go 1-0 up in the second set. But, a determined Nishikori, clearly not in a mood to take the match to a third set, levelled the set when he broke Andujar in the eighth game to make it 4-4. Once Nishikori broke back, it became apparent that it was only a matter of time before the top seed would wrap up the match and he did not disappoint; breaking Andujar for the fourth time in the match to seal his second Barcelona Open title after a battle that had lasted one hour and 35 minutes.
Happy to defend the title: Nishikori
"I’m really happy I’m able to defend the title; I think the second set was extremely tough and I don’t really know how I won it to be honest. Pablo was very aggressive, he kept moving the ball and made me run up and down all the time. I also tried to be aggressive and I think that’s why I won the important points, but I’d say he played better than me”, said Nishikori.
Nishikori was all praise for his opponent, who he called a ‘great player’ while also expressing his delight at having taken the match in straight sets. "I knew Pablo was a great player. I watched yesterday’s match so I knew it wouldn’t be easy to beat him. It wasn’t my best match, I wasn’t at 100% but I think it’s important I won in two sets”, added Nishikori.
Andujar, too, was satisfied with the level of tennis that was played, but couldn’t smother his disappointments at not having been able to emerge triumphant. "It was a great, high-quality final; We were both playing well. I played better in the second set and I felt I deserved something more, but what happened was I let some opportunities pass. I believe that I could have won but here we are. I feel I played my best tennis this week”, said Andujar.
Having commenced his clay-court season on an imperious note, Nishikori has made his intentions of wanting to win the French Open amply clear and his win at Barcelona Open is likely to send a strong message to Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and, of course, Rafael Nadal.