Rafael Nadal may have won his 12th Barcelona Open title, but his victory speech came with a stern warning for his rivals on the ATP Tour "I have room to keep improving" he said after his epic three set victory over Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Spaniard saved a championship point in the third set en route to his 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-5 victory on Pista Rafa Nadal to end Tsitsipas' unbeaten start to the season on clay. The Greek world No.5 came into the match with a 9-0 record and had won all of his 17 sets played on the red dirt this year.

"It is important for me. It is important for my confidence. It is important for the title, by itself," Nadal said, as quoted on the ATP Tour website. "It is an important title in my career, achieving another ATP 500 {title] and, additionally, one of the best ATP 500s in the history of our sport with a big tradition in Barcelona. It is great."

"I think I have been able to play better and better during the whole week [in] every single match and today was a little bit better than yesterday. I have room to keep improving. I was not perfect," said Nadal. "I really believe that I can play better than what I am doing on clay and I really hope that the victory of today is going to help me to raise a little bit [my] level that I need today to fight for the next couple of events that I am going to play."

The Barcelona Open was only the third tournament of the year for Nadal. It was his second since returning from a back injury that he suffered in the build up to the Australian Open in January.

The 20-time men's singles Grand Slam champion, who returned to number two in the world rankings, was happy to get more competitive matches under his best. He is certain that epic battles like this – the match against Tsitsipas was the longest best of three-set ATP Tour final at three hours and 38 minutes – will prepare him for the tournaments ahead.

"I have not been able to play a lot of competitive matches for the past couple of months. It is true that matches like today make me feel better physically and more ready for the long battles," Nadal added. "I felt quite well on the court about my physical performance. I have been working hard at home to be ready for this stuff."

Tsitsipas, on the other hand, admitted that Nadal's desire to win and his ability to fight every point will help in his growth and development. He also revealed that he was a bit unlucky not to have won the championship point which the Spaniard saved at 5-4 in the third set.

"He's a real competitor on the court. He hates to lose. He hates to lose more than anyone else," Tsitsipas said. "I haven't seen anyone fight like this. He makes my life really difficult on court. I'm there to accept those terms and play based on his desire to fight. It also makes me a better player and I can see myself reaching my limits. It's definitely something good to have for my personal development and growth."

"I was able to stay patient and wait for my turn. That [5-4] game [when] I had the match point, I felt like I had it for some reason. It was the sensation that I could get that one," Tsitsipas added. "I think I made the right choice [and] I went to the right place... it was the right decision and [I] just got a bit unlucky."

The duo will now head to Madrid for the Masters 1000 event. Tsitsipas was the losing finalist at the Mutua Madrid Open in 2020 going down in straight sets to Novak Djokovic. However, he did beat Nadal on the way to the finals of the tournament.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal will play at the Queen's Club tournament for the first time since 2015 Getty