Ruthless Nadal is forced to dig deep
Rafael Nadal enjoyed his first victory at London's O2 Arena last night to bring the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals bursting into life.
The world number one had not played for five weeks and it showed early on in his Group A encounter with Andy Roddick, but Nadal recovered impressively to record a 3-6 7-6 (7/5) 6-4 victory.
After three one-sided matches, it was just what the tournament needed, and the Spaniard was happy to oblige.
“Finally I won a match," he said. “I started the match a little bit nervously. His serve is always so difficult but I started to play a bit better and this is a very important victory for me.”
The London tournament was not a happy experience for Nadal last year as, after a season dogged by injury, he failed to win a set in his three round-robin matches and left the O2 looking short on confidence and belief.
This season, of course, has seen the Spaniard hit the greatest heights of his career, with three grand slam triumphs, including a first title at the US Open.
The Tour Finals is the only major title so far to elude Nadal, and he admitted on Friday that winning it would be harder for him than winning a slam because of the indoor surface it is played on, which does not generally suit his game.
The court is playing slower this year, giving the world number one more of a chance, but it was his serve that let him down early on as two double faults handed Roddick an immediate break.
The American is famed for his serve, and he needed all of its power as he survived four break points to hold on to his advantage and take the first set.
Nadal was certainly playing better than last year and looked eager and aggressive, but he found himself facing more break points at 1-1 in the second set when Roddick came up with a superb sequence of shots to out-rally the master.
The American sensed his chance and he took it as Nadal chose a surprising moment to come to the net. But Roddick let his opponent off the hook straight away with a poor game, allowing Nadal to level.
And that was the way it stayed all the way through to the first tie-break of this year's singles tournament.
Four points in a row for the world number one from 3-2 down proved the key and he duly levelled when Roddick netted a forehand on the third set point.
The errors of the first set were gone from the Nadal racquet and he ramped up the pressure at 2-2 in the decider, setting up two break points and then taking the first with a super pass.
Roddick had won their last encounter on his way to the Masters title in Miami in the spring but this was Nadal's night and he made no mistake, serving out for victory.
Earlier in the day, Novak Djokovic turned the tables on Tomas Berdych with a comfortable 6-3 6-3 victory in front of football legend Diego Maradona.
The last time this pair met in the capital was in the Wimbledon semi-finals this summer, when Berdych eased to a straight-sets triumph before losing to Nadal in his first grand slam final.
The Serb is hoping his famous fan can help propel him all the way to the final after revealing he and Maradona have been in touch for a number of years, although he had never met the World Cup winner until yesterday.
He said: “Just to have him as a support is an incredible honour and pleasure. It's a big pleasure to meet him.
“He's going to stay throughout the whole tournament. Hopefully he can be my lucky charm.”