x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Nadal returns to his winning ways

World No 2 claims the season-opener with victory over the eighth-ranked Soderling and shows signs he is back to his best.

ABU DHABI // World No 2 Rafael Nadal sealed his first Capitala World Tennis Championship title with a 7-6 (7-3), 7-5 victory over a determined Robin Soderling last night at Zayed Sports City International Tennis Complex. Spaniard Nadal, who lost last year's final to Andy Murray, was pushed to his limit in a fiercely competitive contest. Soderling showed the kind of form that saw him defeat world No 1 Roger Federer in Friday's semi-final, but this time Nadal held his nerve the better of the two when the pressure was on to just edge it.

In a well-fought opening set, Nadal, who comfortably defeated his compatriot David Ferrer in his own semi-final on Friday, caused his opponent problems with the Swede struggling to return the Spaniard's powerful serves. In the eighth game, Nadal's deliveries saw him tie the match at 4-4 without dropping a point. But the world No 8 was equally as powerful from the baseline and forced a tie-break, despite a late scare in the 11th and two set-points in the 12th.

With the match tied at 5-5 with Soderling serving, Nadal returned a winner from his opponent's seemingly unreachable smash. It was by far the shot of the game and meant that the Australian Open champion had three break-points to take the lead. But, uncharacteristically, the six-time grand slam winner squandered each of them to allow the gutsy Scandinavian back into the match and hold his serve at 6-5.

Nadal knew it was a chance missed and double-faulted soon after to gift Soderling the chance to seal the first set. But again, the opportunity went begging as Nadal fought back from two break-points down to take the game to a tie-break, where he then required six points to finally break Soderling's serve and closed the set out in precisely one hour. The second set saw both players play more aggressively with Soderling approaching the net early in a bid to break the Mallorcan. It was Nadal though who found himself with a break-point in the fourth game, but the French Open finalist's serve was too strong.

Three unforced errors in the sixth game showed the Swede was starting to stutter and Nadal made him pay through a series of cross-court forehands to tire him and take a decisive 4-2 lead. But Soderling instantly bounced back, playing a tremendous backhand down the line followed a by a similar forehand down the other side to show he was not prepared to concede the match just yet. With three break-points, Soderling showed determination and resolve to crucially close out the game and reinstate parity on the scoreboard.

Both players were showing signs of tiredness, but their competitive streaks forced them to battle on and the next three games went with serve. But with Soderling facing a potential sixth tie-break in seven games, Nadal finally outmuscled him to close out the game, and the match, to claim his first title of the new year. @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae