Rafael Nadal defeated Russian debutant Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-4 in his first game of the ATP Finals 2020 in an empty O2 arena in London. The Spanish second seed has never won the ATP Finals title before.
This year, it seems that the world number two is determined to get his hands on the biggest title that is still missing from his vast trophy cabinet.
Nadal's latest straight-sets victory took him above Dominic Thiem at the top of Group London 2020 after the opening matches. Earlier, the Austrian third seed defeated Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-3. In the process, Thiem took revenge for last year's final, where Tsitsipas had beaten the US Open champion.
Coming back to Nadal's encounter against Rublev, the latter has won more matches and titles than anyone else on the ATP Tour this year. Defeating an in-form player is always pleasurable and indeed, the start was brilliant for the 34-year-old Spaniard.
After the match, according to BBC, Nadal said, "I am very pleased with the victory, it changes the perspective of the tournament a little bit. I know I have a super difficult match against Dominic but a win in two sets helps for the confidence."
On previous occasions, Nadal had lost in the 2010 and 2013 finals. This year, he would aim to go one step further.
The left-hander has won 86 career titles so far. Interestingly, only one of those came from an indoor hard court. The "King of Clay" recently played in similar indoor conditions in the Paris Masters. However, the 20-time Grand Slam winner lost in the semi-finals.
As far as Rublev is concerned, the eighth seed struggled on serve in the first set, which he later admitted to be a sign of nerves on his Finals debut. And once Nadal got the opportunity, he wasn't reluctant to punish the 23-year old Russian. Nadal earned the decisive break for a 4-2 lead quickly. Rublev was visibly annoyed by his own performance as he hit his racquet against the ground.
Next year, this tournament is set to move to Turin, Italy. This year, no fans are allowed inside the 18,000-seater stadium due to coronavirus restrictions.