A determined Rafael Nadal got away to an efficient 6-3, 6-4 opening win at the ATP Finals on Sunday as the Spaniard began his campaign to finally claim a title at the season wrapup.
The world No. 2 needed 77 minutes in London to spoil the tournament debut of Andrey Rublev, winner of a season-leading five titles.
Nadal has yet to lift the trophy at the year-ender from 10 appearances, losing finals in 2010 and 2013.
He broke once per set against the 23-year-old Russian, coached by Spain’s Fernando Vicente.
Nadal plays his second group match on Tuesday against Dominic Thiem after the US Open champion took revenge for his finals loss here a year ago with a 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3 defeat of Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Nadal has actually qualified for 16 editions of the tournament, but missed six of them through injury over a decade and a half.
The world No. 2 never faced a break point against Rublev, whom he beat in their only other meeting three years ago.
“It was a positive start for me, first matches here are always very tricky,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion said.
“And here you only play the best of the best. This is an important victory for me.
“Andrey has had an amazing season in difficult (COVID-19) conditions. But I went on court with determination to play my game
“My serve worked well which is a big help on this surface. I was able to convert a few chances on returns – that is the indoor game.”
Nadal said his opening victory ” changes a bit perspective of the tournament for me.
“I will have a tough match against Dominic , but winning in two sets gives me confidence.”
Rublev admitted that he still lacks experience going up against the very top names in the sport;
“I’ve only played three times against Top 3 players,” the Russian said. “Twice against Rafa and once against (Roger) Federer. .
“I don;t have much experience now but the more I play them the more prepared I will be.
“At the start of the match I was serving not so well, I was nervous but that is normal.
“When he broke me in the second set I relaxed and started serving better, – but by then it was too late.”