Rafael Nadal is back.
Not that the 11-time Grand Slam champion went anywhere, but the former world No. 1 returned to the winner's circle Sunday with a straight-set rout of David Nalbandian for the title at the Brasil Open.
Nadal returned from a seven-month injury layoff last week with a runner-up finish at the VTR Open in Chile. This time, the Spanish superstar made no mistake and earned his 51st career title with a 6-2, 6-3 victory in Sunday's final.
The 26-year-old Mallorcan claimed this clay-court title for the second time, having previously won it in his 2005 debut when it was played in Costa do Sauipe. He improved to 51-22 all-time in finals, including 37-5 on clay.
Nadal's 35 titles on the slow surface are still third all-time, behind only Thomas Muster (40) and Guillermo Vilas (45). He won a title for the first time since capturing his seventh French Open championship last June.
A knee injury kept him sidelined for a majority of 2012 and the start of this year.
"It's very nice and important because at the end of your career what's left are the titles, and depending on certain moments there are some titles that you appreciate very much," said Nadal. "This one I appreciate it the most because of all the struggles I went through during the week, with some problems with my knee some days."
After Nadal breezed through the first set Sunday, Nalbandian tried to make it a match by winning the first three games of the second set with a pair of breaks.
Nadal, who lost to unheralded Horacio Zeballos last week in three sets, wasn't about to let another match slip through his hands. He quickly regrouped and ripped off the last six games.
"I don't think I played my best match of the week today," said Nalbandian. "I think Rafa played better, he played deep. I was struggling to take the initiative during the points and although I had that lead in the second set, I couldn't capitalise on it."
Nalbandian fell to 11-13 all-time in finals and hasn't won a title since the summer of 2010 in Washington, DC. He was playing his first tournament of 2013, sitting out the last two months of 2012 with an abdominal injury.
Nadal improved to 5-2 all-time against Nalbandian, beating the Argentine veteran for the fifth straight time. It was their first meeting in a final since Nalbandian's 6-4, 6-0 triumph at the 2007 Paris Indoors.
The two also played doubles together this week, but withdrew after their first match to allow Nadal rest for his still aching knee.