November 16, 2015
Rafa Nadal produced some of his very best tennis to thrill the London fans with a convincing 6-3, 6-2 victory over the unpredictable Stan Wawrinka at the World Tour Finals.
The Spanish crowd-pleaser got off to a shaky start as the Swiss caught him cold with an early break. But then the vintage self-belief seemed to pour back into Nadal, who missed this event last year, has never won it and has struggled for much of 2015.
Rafa said: ‘I missed this event more than you missed me and I’m very happy to be back this year. It’s one of the best tournaments in the world in an unbelievable city.
‘I’m very happy to start like this, it’s important for my confidence, I’ve been playing better for the last couple of months and I’ve been playing this well for the last couple of weeks. The same motivation, the same spirit to keep improving my tennis is there.’
Nadal broke Wawrinka in a crucial eighth game of the first set. Three times Stan the Man was under threat – and three times he saved himself. However, as the game neared its seventh minute, Rafa simply lifted his level once more, tightened the screw and finally came out on top thanks to a series of stunning returns.
Wawrinka had to break straight back if he wanted to stay in the set, but Nadal was in no mood to fluff his lines once he had the upper hand.
The start of the second set seemed to favour Wawrinka – and it looked as though we might have a classic match to savour. Stan saved no fewer than seven break points to hold serve in a marathon first game. Then he had Nadal 15-40 and looked ready to take a two-game lead. Nadal produced some of his old magic to stay in contention and held with the help of a breathtaking lob.
Wawrinka never seemed to recover from the psychological blow. His famed single-handed back-hand had already begun to misfire, but pretty soon his entire game was falling apart. A promising situation was turned on its head as Wawrinka was broken with precious little resistance.
A ruthless Nadal sensed his opponent’s mental turmoil on the night and seized the opportunity to break again. Before long Nadal had turned on the same power for which he was once so famous, and served with a commanding 4-1 lead, the match almost his.
Not even the odd flash of brilliance from Wawrinka could turn the tide, as spectators struggled to understand why he was playing so far below his usual level. Nadal soon closed out to put Stan out of his misery.
Andy Murray had already delighted his home crowd with a straightforward 6-4, 6-4 win over David Ferrer. Murray rarely looked in trouble, broke when it mattered and was able to notch his first victory without expending too much energy.
The Scotsman’s priority should be to stay fit and fresh enough to complete his dream of Davis Cup glory by the end of the month. But he must know he is in for a bruising clash against the pugnacious Nadal on Wednesday.
And as Wawrinka found out, after making 35 unforced errors, if you don’t bring your best game and mindset to a match against Nadal, you can be crushed mercilessly. And Murray won’t want that to happen, particularly not in Britain.
Rafa said: ‘Andy is a very special player, he is world number two, it’s going to be a very tough match but I’m looking forward to it – especially here.’