Rafael Nadal rolled back the years with a virtuoso performance to overcome Andy Murray in straight sets and put him on the brink of reaching the last four of the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London. Nadal completed a 12th career win over the error-strewn British number one with a 6-4 6-1 scoreline putting him on course for the semi-final following his finest performance of the year.
Only a two-set win for fellow-countryman David Ferrer will prevent Nadal becoming the second player to qualify for the knock-out stage of the tournament, joining Roger Federer after he overwhelmed world number one Novak Djokovic. Murray meanwhile, who was seen stretching his back during the second set a week ahead of Great Britain's Davis Cup final against Belgium in Ghent, will require victory in his final match against Stanislas Wawrinka to stand any chance of progressing.
But victory for Nadal comes at the end of a troublesome season where he has failed to recapture his best form following surgery at the back-end of 2014, which led to him being dethroned as the French Open champion. Nadal showed shades of his very best on a slow court in Greenwich, with his trademark forehand a constant weapon; an ominous sign for his rivals.
Passage into the semi-final would likely await the winner of the 18th career meeting between Murray and Nadal, with a win guaranteeing the Brit would end the year as the world number two. Nadal however had revenge on his mind after being humiliated in straight sets on home turf in the Madrid Masters final during their last meeting back in May.
The 29-year-old's ambitions of giving Murray of a taste of his own medicine started in the worst possible fashion as the 2013 Wimbledon champion grabbed a break in the opening game, but it would be a short-lived success. Nadal responded in kind to level as engrossing rallies became an immediate feature of the match.
In between the first changeover, a visibly frustrated Murray trimmed some of his hair but on resumption it was Nadal who showed the greater cutting edge. The nine-time Roland Garros champion was the more aggressive of the two players - attacking the lines with his dominant forehand and pushing Murray back beyond the baseline.
In game six, Murray saved three break points, the second as the ball wrong-footed Nadal after striking the net cord. The two-time grand slam winner, who was creating little on the Nadal serve, was forced to produce similar heroics in the next game as the number five seed ratcheted up the pressure but to little avail.
Presented with more break points for a third game in a row, Nadal was not to be denied. The Spaniard produced a deft drop shot to claim the break and the opening set in 57 minutes.
Murray barely had to make Nadal work for a break early in the second set with a game littered with two double-faults as the twice runner-up grabbed a 2-0 lead. A pair of magnificent forehands from Nadal saw the break cemented and the lead was then extended as Murray appeared to down tools while stretching out his back between points.
Another fine cross-court forehand on the first match point saw Nadal claim a comfortable victory to make Murray wait to secure the year-end world number two ranking. But worries over his form and fitness going into the Davis Cup final will be of greater concern for the Scot.