Rafael Nadal has bounced back from his pre-Australian Open bout of Covid-19 to win the Melbourne Summer Set warm-up event, surpassing an impressive Roger Federer feat in the process.
The 35-year-old proved too good for impressive French qualifier Maxime Cressy in a hard-fought 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 contest, winning his first event in Australia since his 2009 grand slam epic against Federer.
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Cressy put up a noteworthy fight, but Nadal's experience proved too much.
Crucially, the tournament win made it 19 seasons in a row for Nadal in which he has won at least one ATP Tour event - surpassing previous record holders Federer and American great Andre Agassi.
Fittingly, the 89th title of the Spaniard's mighty career came on Rod Laver Arena, the scene of that memorable 2009 Australian Open triumph over old rival Federer.
The 20-times grand slam champion has since lost four more title deciders in Melbourne since then - in 2012 and 2019 to Novak Djokovic, 2017 to Federer and 2014 to Stan Wawrinka.
"This court has been very, very special to me," Nadal said.
"I have enjoyed unbelievable moments here.
"The name of this court, Rod Laver Arena, is very, very special, I think, to everyone. A lot of emotions I have enjoyed here."
But the former world No.1 was made to fight to extend his amazing record of having won at least one ATP title for a remarkable 19 consecutive years.
The world No.112 Cressey sent a warning to his rivals for a spot in the upcoming grand slam with his impressive run through the warm-up event.
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The 112th-ranked Cressy had taken out second seed Reilly Opelka and former world No.3 Grigor Dimitrov with his old-school style to reach the final.
He persisted with his daring tactics against Nadal, rushing the net behind first and second serves throughout the match come what may.
Cressy had the opening set on his racquet but couldn't land a first delivery on either point when serving at 6-5 in the tiebreaker.
Typically, the ruthless Nadal made him pay, snatching the breaker to take a one-set lead.
Undeterred, the Paris-born Cressy broke Nadal in the first game of the second set.
But there was no denying the Spaniard, who broke back twice to secure victory and a perfect start to 2022 after injuries and a heavy bout of COVID-19 last month threatened to derail his shot at a record 21st grand slam title this month.
"I feel privileged, a very lucky guy to be here again," Nadal said.
"I am coming back from some challenging moments in terms of injuries so I can't be happier today.
"It means a lot to be back with one trophy in my hands after everything."
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