2014 marked the first edition of The Rio Open held on the clay courts of the Jockey Club Brasileiro in Brazil. It is the only combined ATP World Tour 500 and WTA International event in South America.
Both World No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 4 David Ferrer of Spain, headlined the inaugural tournament. Nadal accepted a last minute wildcard to compete following a stint on the sidelines after he obtained a back injury in the final of the Australian Open.
“I have good feelings about competing in Brazil. I have a great connection with the fans here. This country is very special and I hope to enjoy the experience,” Nadal said upon accepting his wildcard.
“I think that tennis has to move to places where there is love and passion for the sport, so it is important to have tournaments in South America,” he continued.
“Tennis is a global sport, so to have tournaments in new places is great for our sport. Cities and countries in Latin America have developed a lot over the years, so it is good to see tournaments are getting bigger and bigger in this part of the world.”
The top seed went on to win the debut edition of the event and his 62nd title overall, when he defeated Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov in straight sets 6-3, 7-6 in the final.
The score does not give Dolgopolov justice however, as the 25-year-old unseeded player battled bravely against Nadal in the match that lasted one hour and 41 minutes. Dolgopolov restricted the top seed to just one winner in the opening set, but Nadal was eventually able to clinch it 6-3 with an ace. The left-hander raced ahead to a 5-4 lead in the second, but surprisingly he failed to serve out the match. Dolgopolov managed to push the set to a tiebreak but ultimately succumbed 7-6 (3) as he failed to extend the match to a third set decider.
"He was playing more solid than I watched him play yesterday. The stats were pretty impressive from him. As usual, he was spinning his forehand, making a lot of trouble to hit flat and couldn’t really get used to his serve much - only at the end of the match. But I’m quite happy with the week," an optimistic Dolgopolov said.
Nadal was thrilled with the victory, which continued his undefeated streak on Brazilian soil.
"Always when you win a title, it’s special," Nadal said. "In a 500 tournament, you don’t have a chance to play a lot of these in the calendar. The first edition of a big tournament like Rio, it’s a very important city in the world, and after coming back from injury, it always makes the victory a little more special."
It wasn’t an easy run for Nadal by any means though, as the 27-year-old was lucky to make it through his semi-final clash against compatriot Pablo Andujar, with the eighth seed having multiple match point opportunities in their enthralling encounter. But Nadal saved them both as he overcame Andujar to set up the final against Dolgopolov.
“Yesterday was a tough match. Pablo played a great match, playing very aggressive. I played too short yesterday and I gave him the chance to have control of the point from inside,” Nadal said.
"I’m not very happy with the way I played yesterday, but I think today I was able to play with a little bit more calm, play a little bit longer and go a little bit more for the points. I played a more solid match today."
The victory earned the 13-time Grand Slam champion 500 Emirates ATP Ranking points as well as $316,400 in prize money. It was his second title for the season after winning in Doha in early January and even more remarkably, he holds an impressive 16-1 win-loss record for the season to date.
Nadal’s return to Rio to defend his title in the second edition of the event in 2015 is highly anticipated.
The Rio Open presented by Claro hdtv will take place between 16 February – 23 February 2015.