Rafael Nadal cooled off the red-hot Andrey Rublev in a commanding straight-sets performance to start his 10th Nitto ATP Finals campaign, but the level-headed Spaniard isn’t letting himself get too satisfied after sealing a nearly ‘perfect’ debut. 

Nadal bossed proceedings for 77 minutes at The O2, broke the Russian’s serve three times and didn’t face a break point in either set en route to a smooth 6-3, 6-4 victory.

“There are no perfect matches, and in fact this was not really a perfect match,” Nadal said, speaking to the press in Spanish after the match. “It’s a match where I think Rublev committed more unforced errors than usual, and I think I was also serving very well. On courts like this, if you’re serving well and then you can take advantage of some returns, it can be complicated for the opponent. 

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“I think I played a smart match, so I’m pretty happy with this victory. It was a tough opponent and a tough match, for many different reasons, and tactically I think I played it well.” 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion came into London trying to shake off the label of the player with the most Nitto ATP Finals appearances who has never won the title, recording two runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2013. He’s also qualified for the season-ending event a record 16 consecutive times, but missed six editions due to injury. 

Today’s strong start sends him to the top of Group London 2020, and Nadal was already looking ahead to his blockbuster second round robin match against US Open winner Dominic Thiem, last year’s finalist.  

“Of course it’s a positive start, but I have to play against Dominic [Thiem] and then Stefanos [Tsitsipas], so two of the toughest opponents that you can face.” Nadal said, adding, “[Thiem] is a great player. He’s improving every year. He’s a hard worker. Great guy, so I’m super happy for him to watch him win his first Grand Slam and he deserves it. He’s one of the guys on the Tour that really deserves the success because he’s a very hard worker.”

The match will be a repeat of their epic Australian Open quarter-final, with Nadal seeking revenge as Thiem toppled the top-seeded Spaniard in four sets en route to the final.

“For me, [it’s] going to be a tough one. Hopefully for him, too,” Nadal said. “I’m going to try to be ready for it. It’s going to be a big challenge, but I really hope the victory of today [will] help me for that match. And tomorrow I have a day off to practise, to keep working the way that I need, and I hope to be ready for it.”

Source: Tennis – ATP World Tour