World No. 2 Rafael Nadal said his gruelling 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-5 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Barcelona Open final on Sunday could prepare him for long battles ahead in the European claycourt season.
The 34-year-old, who claimed a record-extending 12th Barcelona title, suffered a back injury in Melbourne earlier this year before he was beaten by Tsitsipas in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
Following a spell out on the sidelines, the 20-times Grand Slam champion returned to action at Monte Carlo this month, going out in the quarters.
But the Spaniard, who will be looking for a 14th French Open crown when the claycourt Grand Slam begins on May 30, showed he was returning to his battling best on Sunday, saving a match point before going on to winning his first title of 2021.
At three hours and 38 minutes, it was the longest best-of-three-set ATP Tour final since statistics started being tracked in 1991, the governing body of men’s tennis said.
"I haven’t been able to play a lot of competitive matches for the past couple of months. It's true that matches like today make me feel better physically and more ready for long battles," Nadal told reporters.
"I think I've been able to play better and better during the whole week in every single match and today was a bit better than yesterday. I have room to keep improving. I wasn't perfect.
"I really believe I can play better than what I'm doing on clay and I hope that the victory is going to help me to raise my level a little bit that I need to fight for the next couple of events that I'm going to play."
Nadal will next be in action at the Madrid Open in early May.