A year ago, Rafael Nadal scored two tight victories in the round-robin stage at the ATP Finals, suffering a heavy loss in the opening clash against Alexander Zverev that cost him dearly. Competing for the first time after another indoor loss against the German in Paris, Nadal is off to a great start in the last ATP Finals edition in London, beating Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-4 in 77 minutes.
In the second match on Tuesday, Rafa will face the US Open champion Dominic Thiem, who toppled Stefanos Tsitsipas in three tight sets to join Nadal at the top of the standings. Rafa and Dominic have played 14 times so far, with the Spaniard winning nine of those.
The Austrian is one of the rare players with four wins over Rafa on clay, beating a great rival for the fifth time at the Australian Open this January. Nadal is aware that he has to bring his A-game to stand a chance against the US Open winner, especially on an indoor court where Dominic almost won the title a year ago.
Everything worked fine for Rafa against Andrey, losing 12 points in ten service games and playing against no break chances. The pressure was on the other side of the court and Rublev – the Tour-leading player with 40 wins and five titles – couldn’t deal with that pace, suffering one break in each set to propel Nadal over the top.
The Spaniard had 16 winners and 11 unforced errors, leaving the ATP Finals debutant on 19 winners and 23 mistakes, too many to challenge the 20-time Major winner. Rafa hit an unreturned serve in almost 40% of the points behind the initial shot, producing a 44-28 advantage in the quickest points up to four strokes and forging his victory in that department.
With aggressive tactics on his mind, Rafa stood inside the court to return Andrey’s second serves, earning those two breaks to move over the top and make a winning start.
Rafael Nadal will play against Dominic Thiem in the second match in London.
They provided five strong holds at the beginning of the encounter before Rafa grabbed a break that sent him 4-2 up.
World no. 2 hit three winners in game nine to close the opener in 36 minutes and clinched another break in the early stages of the second set for a 6-3, 2-0 advantage. A service winner pushed Nadal 4-2 up before Rublev held at love to reduce the deficit and extend his chances.
The Spaniard forced an error from his opponent in game eight, forcing Rublev to serve for staying in the match. Andrey held after a deuce before Nadal brought the tenth game home at 15 with an unreturned serve to seal the deal and make a winning start ahead of the 15th encounter against Dominic Thiem.
“Dominic has been improving his game every year and deserves all the successes as a hard worker. It will be a great challenge to play against him. I must try to play at my highest level; otherwise, it will be impossible to beat him.
We can’t speak about him as a clay-court specialist after reaching the Australian Open final and winning titles in Indian Wells and the US Open. Dominic is a fantastic player on every surface,” Rafael Nadal said.