Nadal beats Federer to equal Vilas
Nadal's incredible victory puts him just one win away from a new record.
ROME, Italy -- Rafael Nadal equalled Guillermo Vilas' record of 53 consecutive claycourt wins when he beat Roger Federer 6-7 7-6 6-4 2-6 7-6 in the final of the Rome Masters.
Nadal's victory, his fourth in a row over the Swiss world number one, made him the first player to win back-to-back titles in the Italian capital since Thomas Muster of Austria in 1995-96.
The 19-year-old Spaniard had to battle all the way, though, coming from a break down in the decider and saving two match points before closing out the contest in just over five hours.
World number two Nadal, who has now won his last nine tournaments on clay, will break Argentine Vilas' record if he beats Tommy Haas of Germany in the first round of next week's Hamburg Masters.
"It was an emotional plus for me to equal this record but the main thing was to win the title," said Nadal, who also matched Bjorn Borg's record of 16 tournament wins as a teenager.
"Fifty-three matches is a lot of matches. Every week when I start a tournament I think -- this week I'm going to lose.
"For me it is nice to equal Borg but he achieved a lot more in his career. I still have a lot to learn and a lot to improve," added Nadal, who will defend his French Open title from May 29.
Federer will hope to exact revenge in Hamburg as he prepares for the French Open, the only Grand Slam title to elude him.
"It is a pity for me because I started well and had my chances to win, but he caught me on the finish line," said the Swiss.
"Even in Monte Carlo it was extremely close, but this was even closer. I came in to the net more and he hardly passed me all today, so I think I'm on the right track."
Sunday's tight first set ran to a tiebreak, which Federer won to love by firing down a succession of winners before finishing off with a volley into an open court after Nadal had chased down a drop shot.
The second set was dominated by serve. Federer fended off the only break point -- a set point for Nadal -- when he came to the net to put away a crosscourt volley in the 12th game, but then hit three groundstrokes long to allow Nadal to take the tiebreak and level the contest.
The momentum swung Nadal's way in the fifth game of the third set when he whipped a backhand crosscourt winner past Federer to gain a decisive break before holding on to his own serve to close out the set.
Federer looked rattled and made a nervy start to the fourth set, pushing a routine volley into the net and staving off two break points in the opening game, but he recovered to break in the fourth game and again in the eighth when Nadal put a backhand over the baseline.
He broke first too in the decider. A forehand winner down the line in the fourth game created a break point, which the world number one converted when Nadal put a backhand long.
Federer seemed to have taken control and created two match points as Nadal served but the teenager refused to give up, scrapping for every ball to force a final tiebreak.
Even then he did it the hard way. Having fallen a mini-break down, Nadal needed a netted forehand and a wayward service return by Federer to earn match point, which he converted when Federer put another forehand long.
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