HAMBURG (Reuters) - Spaniard Rafa Nadal turned the tables on Italian Fabio Fognini to win the Hamburg Open on Sunday and claim his 67th career title -- winning 7-5 7-5 on the red clay.
Fognini had already beaten the 29-year-old Spaniard twice this year, in Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona, but was unable to record an astonishing hat-trick against the 14-times grand slam champion who has dropped to 10th in the ATP rankings.
Nadal's hard-fought victory clinched his third title of the year after triumphs in Stuttgart and Buenos Aires.
World number 32 Fognini, who won the Hamburg title in 2013, broke Nadal's opening service game in a 12-minute tussle, setting the tone for an intense baseline battle.
"I think it's been a great final, a very tough one which was up and down so I hope the people enjoyed it," Nadal said before wincing and laughing through cramps on the winners podium.
"Coming back to Hamburg after eight years was a big challenge for me but very exciting. I'm very happy to be here with the title."
Nadal, whose previous air of invincibility on clay has begun to evaporate, hit just six winners and 15 unforced errors in an evenly-contested opening set.
He hit back from dropping serve to break three times in the opening set and then appeared to have gained the upper hand early in the second when he broke en route to a 3-1 lead.
Fognini roared back with successive breaks to move 4-3 ahead and served for the set at 5-4 but Nadal saved a set point to claw it back to 5-5 and held for a 6-5 lead.
Fognini was unable to take the match into a tiebreak and succumbed to defeat when he blazed a forehand long before a clearly emotional Nadal fell to his knees and saluted the crowd after the final point.
Reporting By Tom Hayward in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Martyn Herman