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Nishikori Captures First Clay-Court Title In Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain

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Kei Nishikori became the first Japanese-born player to win a clay-court title on the ATP World Tour on Sunday, outlasting Santiago Giraldo 6-2, 6-2 in the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell final.

Nishikori fired two aces, rifling 19 winners and saving one of two break point opportunities for the victory, giving him his fifth tour-level crown and second of the year, having won on the indoor hard courts of Memphis (d. Karlovic).

It was the Japanese’s third different title at the ATP World Tour 500 level, following a win on home soil in Tokyo in 2012 (d. Raonic) and in Memphis last year (d. Lopez). The 24 year old was also competing in his second final on clay, after falling to Ryan Sweeting in Houston three years ago.

Nishikori extended his FedEx ATP Head2Head advantage over Giraldo to 5-1 with the win, having most recently defeated the Colombian in straight sets at the BNP Paribas Open last month.

Watch: Nishikori Interview

"I was playing well," said Nishikori. "I felt I should be in the final and I'm very happy to win.

"This title and (my run in) Miami helped my confidence, especially this week on clay. There are three big tournaments coming up in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros so I hope I can do well and increase my (Emirates ATP Rankings) points. My next goal is to get to the Top 10.

"I was good on clay when I was little. Like 14 (years old). I was winning all the European juniors events. Now it's much tougher than hard courts and I was struggling a bit, but I've been playing well these past couple years so there's no fear to play on clay."

Read: Huta Galung/Robert Win Barcelona Doubles

The fourth-seed sprinted to an early lead in the battle of Bradenton, Florida residents, clinching the first set in just 36 minutes after breaking Giraldo in three of his four service games. Patrons at the Real Club de Barcelona-1899, the oldest Spanish tennis club, were brought to their feet as Nishikori continued his surge in the second set, breaking immediately and cruising from there.

"Hopefully I can get to the (Barclays ATP World Tour Finals)," added Nishikori. "I was close to the top last year. It's the toughest thing to stay up there and hopefully I can."

The Michael Chang and Dante Bottini pupil earns €422,100 and 500 Emirates ATP Rankings points, ascending Nishikorifive spots to No. 12 in the world, one shy of his career-high ranking. Giraldo takes home €192,450 and 300 Emirates ATP Rankings points for his efforts.

Nishikori’s title marks the first by a non-Spaniard in Barcelona in 12 years, since Argentine Gaston Gaudio prevailed in 2002. Rafael Nadal (2005-‘09, ‘11-13), Fernando Verdasco (2010), Tommy Robredo (2004) and Carlos Moya (2003) had triumphed on home soil in that span. The final was also the first to not feature a Spaniard since 1996.

Meanwhile, Giraldo was vying to become the second player from Colombia to hoist a trophy on the ATP World Tour in his second final. Mauricio Hadad became the first in Bermuda in 1995.

"I feel great about the week," said Giraldo. "It was not an easy day for me. Kei played very good. I have good feelings with my play and my improvements."

The 6’2” 26-year-old, who entered the title match with an impressive 8-1 record in the month of April, had previously contested the Vina del Mar final in 2011 (l. to Robredo). Giraldo was bidding to become the second first-time titlist on the ATP World Tour this year after Federico Delbonis claimed his maiden title in Sao Paulo. He was eyeing his third Top 20 scalp of the week after scoring upsets over No. 3 seed Fabio Fognini and Nadal’s conqueror Nicolas Almagro in the semi-finals.

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