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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, April 25, 2018

 
Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal beat Roberto Carballes Baena in his Barcelona opener setting an Open Era record winning 38 straight sets on clay.

Photo credit: Getty

On the red clay court bearing his name, Rafael Nadal stamped his legacy in the record book.

Striking with force from both wings, Nadal swept compatriot Roberto Carballes Baena, 6-4, 6-4 in his Barcelona opener that was a game-changer.

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The world No. 1 set the Open Era record for consecutive sets won on clay to 38, breaking the prior record he shared with Ilie Nastase, who won 36 straight clay-court sets in 1973. Nadal has won 30 or more clay-court matches five different times in his career.




The 10-time Roland Garros champion has not surrendered a set on his beloved dirt since bowing to Dominic Thiem in the Rome quarterfinals last May.

Since then, Nadal has rampaged through 15 consecutive straight-sets clay-court victories and shows no signs of slowing down.

Thumping his forehand with authority and creating sharp angles with his two-handed backhand, the reigning champion raised his Barcelona record to 54-3. Nadal won 19 of 27 points played on his opponent's second serve (70 percent).

The score line looks straightforward, but Carballes Baena provided some stiff resistance on another Rafa coronation day. The 25-year-old, who often trains in Barcelona, became the first man to take four games in two sets against Nadal since world No. 4 Alexander Zverev did it in the Davis Cup quarterfinals earlier this month.

Pressuring immediately Carballes Baena surprised Nadal sliding a forehand down the line and tomahawking a smash to break for 2-0, 10 minutes into the match.

"It was a difficult game and I committed a couple of errors at the start," Nadal said. "The first game here after Monte Carlo is always hard but I soon found my rhythm."

Bolting a backhand down the line, Nadal broke right back then withstood a tough test through a deuce game to level.

By the fifth game, the back of Carballes Baena's t-shirt was soaked with sweat—a visual reminder of how hard the world No. 77 was working to stay close.

Ratcheting up his level of play, Nadal hammered a forehand pass crosscourt seizing his second straight break.

Swinging more freely, Nadal began carving up Carballes Baena forcing his younger compatriot back behind the baseline then deploying a devious drop shot winner.

Despite a time violation warning, Nadal held at 15 rolling through his fourth consecutive game for 4-2.

Serving for set history, Nadal initially stumbled.

Carballes Baena saved a pair of set points with aggressiv drives then gained break point. Spreading the court with a slice serve wide, Nadal nullified the break point with a forehand dagger down the line.

Sliding a soft forehand dropper into the front court, Nadal won the 56-minute set—his 37th consecutive clay-court set—to make Open Era history.




In his first meeting against the 16-time Grand Slam champion, Carballes Baena showed no fear and no hesitation trying to take the first big hit.

Credit Quito champion Carballes Baena with his efforts to take the ball early and spin shots down the line on occasion in an effort to pressure Nadal. After a tight opening set, Nadal's relentless punishing drives rattled out the break to start the second set.




Facing double break point in the sixth game, Nadal ran around his backhand but overshot the mark with a forehand down the line. A gritty Carballes Baena broke back for 3-all.

The 10-time champion played some of his most assertive points after surrendering serve. Following a forehand down the line forward, Nadal closed nudging a fine backhand drop shot for break back point.

Both men flirted with the baseline in a crackling rally that ended with Nadal curling a crosscourt forehand right off the sideline to break back in the seventh game.

Nadal charged through a love hold to consolidate. Continuing to assert his game, Carballes Baena saved a match point with a forehand drive volley, holding for 4-5.




Snapping his first ace out wide brought Nadal three more match points. A flurry of forehands closed the curtain on a one hour, 51-minute showcase of often superb tennis.

Continuing his quest for an 11th Barcelona crown, the top seed moved into an all-Spanish showdown with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.




The 34-year-old Garcia-Lopez led Kei Nishikori, 6-3, when the Monte-Carlo runner-up retired due to pain in his right wrist.

"My expectations grew in Monte Carlo, despite losing to Nadal," Nishikori said. "But I started feeling discomfort again during the first set and I did not want to take any risks."


 

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