INDIAN WELLS, California (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal added another triumphant chapter to his remarkable comeback when he came from a set and 0-2 down to beat Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina 4-6 6-3 6-4 in the BNP Paribas Open final on Sunday.
The Spanish left-hander, who was sidelined for seven months last year with a left knee injury, overcame a gritty challenge from the hard-hitting Argentine to win a record 22nd ATP Masters title, and a third at Indian Wells.
Fifth seed Nadal broke Del Potro in the third game of the final set and, after his opponent had saved three match points in the ninth, served out to seal victory after an absorbing final that lasted two hours 29 minutes.
The match ended with a mistimed forehand from the seventh-seeded Del Potro which floated wide and the Spaniard immediately dropped to the ground, flat on his back, while shaking his fists in celebration.
"I started the match playing fantastic, then Del Potro started playing a little more aggressive," 11-times grand slam champion Nadal, who moved fluently during the match, said courtside after hugging his opponent at the net.
"In my opinion, I tried to change too early against his forehand. I was playing much too aggressive for my game. When I was able to calm myself, I began to play better. I started to play a little bit slower. My movement was unbelievable.
"Then I play a fantastic match," added the Spaniard, who had his left knee taped up throughout the tournament.
It was Nadal's 53rd ATP singles title, his third of the year after appearing in four successive finals, and his first on a hardcourt surface since Tokyo in 2010.
The Spaniard made an impressive start, holding serve after a marathon first game where he controlled a series of protracted baseline rallies, then breaking Del Potro in the second, though it took him four break points.
The Argentine was again in trouble on serve in the fourth, serving at 15-40 down, but he saved two break points before holding with a booming forehand winner down the line.
Nadal surprisingly failed to hold in the fifth after dictating almost every rally, losing the game when 2009 U.S. Open champion Del Potro blasted a backhand crosscourt winner with his service return.
Growing in confidence and continually attacking with his forehand, the towering Argentine again broke Nadal in the ninth when his opponent blasted a forehand long.
Del Potro then held serve to take the first set in 54 minutes, racing 40-0 up but squandering his first two set points before finishing off with a backhand volley winner at the net and pumping his right fist in delight.
An out-of-sorts Nadal failed to hold in the first game of the second set, trailing 30-40 after a blistering forehand pass by the Argentine and then netting a forehand to give Del Potro the break.
The next four games went with serve before Nadal, urged on by roars of "Rafa, Rafa, Rafa" that echoed around the Stadium Court, broke Del Potro in the sixth when the Argentine hit a forehand long.
Del Potro was also broken in the eighth, when Nadal blasted a forehand winner into an open court, and the Spaniard then held serve to level the match at one-set all with a 105 mph ace.
The Argentine survived three breaks points before holding serve in an energy-sapping first game in the final set but he failed to hold in the third as the Spaniard crunched a forehand winner down the line to lead 2-1.
There was no way back from there for Del Potro, who had upset world number three Andy Murray in the quarter-finals and top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the last four.
He did well to save three match points after going 0-40 down on serve in the ninth before holding but Nadal served out for victory in the 10th, needing only one more match point to add a third Indian Wells title to his previous wins in 2007 and 2009.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)
Despite winning the French Open, Rafael Nadal will be seeded merely No. 5 at Wimbledon, opening the prospect of a quarterfinal with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray.
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