Nadal off to winning start in quest for first ATP Finals title


he ATP Finals title is one of the few to have eluded Rafael Nadal but the world No2 suggested he could yet break his duck with a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 victory over Andrey Rublev in London on Sunday night.

The Russian had been the breakthrough star of the ATP Tour in 2020 with titles in Doha, Adelaide, Hamburg, St Petersburg and Vienna but, on the evidence of day one at the the O2 Arena, he won’t stretch that to six at the final tournament of the season.

Dominic Thiem, an earlier winner against Stefanos Tsitsipas on day on, had suggested beforehand that the lack of the crowds – usually a capacity 17,500 spectators per session at the O2 – would help the Rublev nerves.

But it did not prove to be the case as he managed a first-serve percentage of just 40% in the opening set and it proved an echo of their only previous encounter as Nadal swatted Rublev aside in straight sets at the 2017 US Open.

The trademark of Rublev’s climb into the top eight for the lucrative end-of-season finale has been his aggressive style and the son of a former Soviet Union boxer had hinted at a similarly punchy approach against his Spanish opponent.

And while he found his rhythm as the second straight dragged on, by then it was too late with Nadal’s stranglehold over the tie complete.

After the win, Nadal said: “Always the first match is very tricky. It’s a positive start for me. I’m very happy.”

Nadal has habitually struggled either to be fit for the ATP Finals or else master the indoor surface but the suggestion on day one is that the courts have been playing slower and more to Nadal’s liking.

The opening win improved his ATP Finals career record to 19-14 and, fresher than in season’s past with this year’s limited calendar, he hinted he could yet push pre-tournament favourite Novak Djokovic for the win come next Sunday.

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