FORMER World No1 Rafael Nadal recovered from a break down in the deciding set to mark his return to competitive action, after more than a month of inactivity, with a victory over Mardy Fish at the ATP Tour Finals in London.
The Spaniard displayed evidence of ring rust on what was his first appearance since 13 October, but the break clearly hasn’t dulled his competitive instincts.
Nadal, who required a bathroom break for a stomach problem late on, dug deep to grind out a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3) victory in two hours and 53 minutes to claim the spoils in an epic Group B match.
Nadal’s preparations were disturbed when he called the trainer to tape his fingers before play had even begun, but it was tournament debutant Fish who struggled to settle into the match.
The American, whose only victory over Nadal in eight previous contests came at the Cincinnati Masters in September, made three basic errors in the opening game and was broken to 15.
Nadal moved further ahead in the seventh game and when he closed out the set in double quick time it appeared the French Open champion was in for a comfortable evening’s work.
But Fish, ranked eight in the world and the only American in the tournament, rallied and forced Nadal onto the defensive with some aggressive tennis, rushing to the net and producing some superb volleying.
Nadal went 2-0 up in the decider following a trademark forehand pass but then shocked a captivated crowd when he rushed off court for a short break.
He said: “It was a very important victory. Sorry for the toilet break but I had a terrible stomach.”
Seemingly stung into action by his opponent’s absence, Fish again responded when Nadal returned to the arena and quickly reeled off three games on the trot to take a 3-2 lead.
Nadal broke back to love with another delicious forehand pass before both men held for 4-4. Fish managed to save two match points in game 10 but ran out of steam in a tie-break dominated by Nadal.
Of his upcoming match against old adversary Roger Federer, Nadal said: “It will be a really difficult match for me. He’s playing very well and it’s a really difficult challenge but this is a fantastic win and I will try my best.”
Federer sees off Tsonga in three sets
DEFENDING champion Roger Federer hailed his best form of the year after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in his ATP World Tour Finals opener at the O2 in London.
Federer, who came into the match buoyed by successive titles in Basel and Paris, defeated the Frenchman 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 in Group B.
“Jo-Wilfried served well in the second set and it was hard to control the rallies at the baseline,” said Federer.
“But I think this is the best I’ve played all year.”