Rafael Nadal stood at the top of the tennis world in February 2014, winning ten titles in the previous season after an injury and looking strong at the beginning of the new one. Nadal claimed the title in Doha in the first week of 2014 and reached the Australian Open final, where Stan Wawrinka toppled him in four sets.
The Spaniard took a well-deserved rest before the inaugural ATP 500 Rio Open, returning to his beloved clay as the top favorite. Unlike in 2013, it was the only clay tournament for Rafa during the Golden Swing. He went all the way to lift the 62nd ATP title, bouncing back from a tough Pablo Andujar semi-final challenge and toppling Alexandr Dolgopolov in the title match on February 23.
In the opening three rounds, Nadal defeated Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Albert Montanes and Joao Sousa, losing serve twice in total and hoping for more of the same against Andujar in the semis. Instead of that, Pablo kept the Roland Garros champion on the court for two hours and 47 minutes, taking the opening set and wasting two match points in the decider before Rafa prevailed 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 to stay on the title course following a crazy tie break that he grabbed 12-10.
In the final, world no. 54 Alexandr Dolgopolov stood between Nadal and the trophy, advancing into his third ATP final on clay and hoping to stun world no. 1 and lift the third ATP crown. After an hour and 41 minutes, Nadal scored a 6-3, 7-6 triumph to become the inaugural champion and continue where he left in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros last spring.
On this day seven years ago, Rafael Nadal claimed the Rio Open title.
The Spaniard fended off three out of four break chances and earned two breaks from only three opportunities to prevail in straight sets and avoid another tight three-setter like the previous day.
Dolgopolov had more winners and more unforced and forced errors, losing ground in the shortest rallies and falling in straight sets despite staying in touch with Nadal in the mid-range and most extended exchanges. The Ukrainian sprayed a forehand error in the fourth game to lose serve at love, with Rafa confirming the break after a service winner to move 4-1 up and settle into a nice rhythm.
Staying aggressive, Alexandr created a break chance in game seven with a forehand winner at the net, denied by a perfect drop shot and defense from Rafa, who faced another break point after Dolgopolov's volley winner.
A service winner helped the Spaniard to get out of jail before he met the third break chance, fending it off with a forced error and closing the game to move 5-2 up. Serving for the set in the ninth game, Nadal held at love after an ace to claim the opener 6-3 in 38 minutes, looking good to seal the deal in straight sets.
Dolgopolov got broken in the second set's third game when his volley found the net and sprayed a forehand error in the next one to sent Rafa 3-1 up. A service winner pushed Nadal 4-2 up after a hold at love, and he created a break opportunity that could have sent him 5-2 ahead.
Alexandr saved it with a powerful forehand to remain within one break deficit and served for staying in the match when Nadal held with another unreturned serve in game eight. Ready to fight for every point, Alexandr reduced the deficit to 5-4 and broke back to level the score and prolong the action, holding at 15 with a forehand winner to gain a 6-5 advantage.
With no room for mistakes, Nadal brought the 12th game home with a drop shot and set a tie break where he opened a 4-1 lead when Alexandr netted an easy backhand. Rafa earned three match points with a forehand return winner at 5-3 and finished the job with a service winner for 7-3 and the 62nd ATP title in his hands.