Rafael Nadal has started his ATP Finals experience on a winning note…
The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star made easy work of Andrey Rublev in Sunday’s late match, beating the Russian 6-3, 6-4 in just 1 hour, 17 minutes inside a largely empty O2 Arena.
Nadal is hoping to cap off a season in which he earned his record-equaling 20th Grand Slam title and 1,000th match win on tour by capturing his first-ever trophy at the ATP Finals. He has qualified for the season-ending event for a record 16 straight years, but has lost in the final twice and missed six editions because of injuries.
Nadal steered the evening match in his direction from the start, losing just five points on his serve in the first set. He broke for a 4-2 lead when Rublev sent a shot long, and the Russian then slammed his racket into the ground in frustration.
Rublev entered the tournament as one of the hottest players on tour, having won five titles this season, but looked unsettled against Nadal and continuously gesticulated and shouted to himself between points.
Nadal broke in the opening game of the second set as well and never faced a break point of his own. He served out the win on his second match point when Rublev’s return sailed long.
This is the 12th and last year that the ATP Finals is played at the 02 Arena before moving to Turin, Italy, next year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic there are no fans inside the 20,000-capacity venue this time — meaning the normally raucous atmosphere has been replaced by an eerie silence interrupted only by muted applause from the players’ boxes between points.
There are also no line judges, as the tournament is using electronic line calling for the first time. The system means players can no longer challenge whether a ball was in or out as those calls get made automatically. However, they can request a video review for other disputed situations, such as double bounces.