After securing the year-end no. 1 position for the fifth time in London last week, Rafael Nadal went back home and embraced the national colors at the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid. In his first match in front of the home fans, Rafa defeated Karen Khachanov 6-3, 7-6 in two hours and ten minutes for his 25th straight Davis Cup singles triumph, a much-needed one after Andrey Rublev ousted Roberto Bautista Agut in the first rubber.
Nadal had to work hard in their previous three meetings and that was the case today as well in set number two, fending off a set point in the second set to seal the deal in straight sets and keep Spain in contention. Rafa won just three points more than Karen, fending off both break chances and delivering one break from five opportunities to make the difference, at least in the opener.
The home favorite grabbed a break in the fourth game with a backhand down the line winner, repelling a break point in the next game with a forehand winner and earning more opportunities in game six. Khachanov had to save two break points in that game after being 40-0 up, staying within one break deficit before Nadal closed the set in game nine with two service winners after challenging 52 minutes.
Nothing could separate them in the first seven games of the second set, with Rafa hitting a service winner at 3-4 to avoid the setback and stay on the positive side of the scoreboard. Karen had to play against a break point as well in the next game, erasing it to reach a tie break where Rafa earned a match point at 5-5 with another good serve.
Karen saved it with a powerful attack and created a set point that Nadal dismissed with another strong initial shot, sealing the deal when the Russian sent a backhand long in the 16th point to celebrate the victory in front of the partisan crowd in Madrid.