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Originally published February 23, 2014 at 6:06 PM | Page modified February 23, 2014 at 10:46 PM

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Rafael Nadal wins Rio Open title

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain returned from a back injury to win the Rio Open tennis tournament in Brazil.


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Tennis

Nadal, Nara win Rio Open titles

Rafael Nadal returned from a troublesome back injury to win the Rio Open on Sunday, defeating Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Nadal’s victory came four weeks after he lost the Australian Open final to underdog Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland after tweaking his back while warming up.

Nadal, who had to fend off two match points in the semifinal against Pablo Andujar on Saturday, looked more comfortable in the final and improved his record on clay to 298 wins and 21 losses.

The Spaniard declined to talk about his back, focusing instead on the victory.

“Clearly, it was important for me to get back and win after what happened in the final in Australia,” Nadal said.

He said the heat, the court preparation and the quick tennis balls used in the event made it difficult. He had complained about the tennis balls all week.

In the women’s final, fifth-seeded Kurumi Nara of Japan defeated top-seeded Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 to earn her first WTA singles title.

Zakopalova won two WTA titles 10 years ago, but has lost 12 consecutive singles finals. In parts of the match she seemed unwell, perhaps bothered by the 90-degree heat and intense humidity.

“I have an asthma problem, so I couldn’t breathe,” Zakopalova said. “But it’s not an excuse. Well done to Kurumi.”

Gulbis beats Tsonga in final

Third-seeded Ernests Gulbis of Latvia showed he has the temperament for big matches, extending his record in finals to 5-0 after beating defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 to win the Open 13 title in Marseille, France.

Gulbis, ranked 23rd in the world, beat France’s two best players in straight sets on his way to the title, having eliminated top-seeded Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals.

At this time last year, the 25-year-old Gulbis was ranked outside the Top 100, but is on the verge of breaking into the Top 20.

“My long-term goal in tennis isn’t to be Top 20. It’s to be No. 1,” Gulbis said. “Anything less than that wouldn’t make me fully satisfied.”

NFL

Language might lead to penalty

The league’s competition committee is contemplating a policy of penalizing a player 15 yards for using discriminatory language on the field, most notably racial slurs, The New York Times reported.

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said the competition committee would continue conversations at meetings in Florida, and vote on presenting the rule to owners.

Newsome said in addition to the possibility racially charged words could be subject to penalty, homophobic language had been discussed.

Boxing

Casal prepares to re-enter ring

There is a thunderbolt-shaped scar on the back of Nick Casal’s head, and a poster promoting a title fight that never occurred on the wall next to the light welterweight’s practice ring.

These are among the reminders Casal carries from the time he nearly lost his life after being clubbed repeatedly to the head and body by a crowbar-wielding assailant two years ago. And these unlikely souvenirs also serve as motivation for Casal as he prepares to re-enter the ring.

“We put that up as a reminder,” said Casal, pointing to the poster of the World Boxing Organization intercontinental title bout in which he was supposed to face Ruslan Provodnikov in June 2012. “It’s just a reminder of where I was at, and that’s where I’m going to get back to.”

The first step is set to begin Thursday, when the 28-year-old Casal (22-4-1) is scheduled to fight Shakha Moore (11-19-3) in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

On May 12, 2012, Casal was walking with his girlfriend when he was attacked from behind by her ex-boyfriend, Michael Vicki. Casal was struck at least 15 times. He spent three hours in surgery and doctors used more than 200 stitches to close various gashes. Vicki was sentenced to five years in prison last year.

Casal was cleared to fight by the New York Athletic Commission after passing several tests.

Track and field

Whiting wins U.S. shot-put title

Ryan Whiting won the shot-put title at the U.S. indoor nationals in Albuquerque, N.M., with a meet-record effort of 72 feet, 11¼ inches.

Mary Cain, a 17-year-old from Bronxville, N.Y., successfully defended her title in the 1,500 meters, winning in 4 minutes, 7.05 seconds.

Hours after running first in the women’s 3,000 meters, Gabe Grunewald was disqualified when video showed she jostled Jordan Hasay during the final lap. Thus Shannon Rowbury was awarded the gold medal.

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