Rafael Nadal needed only two wins to advance into the title clash at the ATP 250 event in Melbourne at the start of the season. World no. 6 skipped the first round and beat Ricardas Berankins in the second. Scott Griekspoor withdrew ahead of the quarter-final duel with Rafa, and the Spaniard faced the young Finn Emil Ruusuvuori in a battle for the final.
Nadal earned a 6-4, 7-6 victory in an hour and 56 minutes for his 126th ATP final and the first since Rome last May. Nadal and Ruusuvori had never played before, but they knew each other well. The Finn trained with the Spaniard in Mallorca during the off-season in 2019 and 2020, gathering experience and forging his path toward the top-100.
Emil reached his fourth ATP semi-final in Melbourne and gave his best against world no. 6. The youngster lost serve three times while converting one out of six break chances. Thus, Nadal set the title clash against the first-time ATP finalist Maxime Cressy, seeking the 89th ATP trophy.
Rafa defended two break chances in the encounter's opening game to avoid an early setback and get his name to the scoreboard. There were no deuces or break chances in the next eight games, as they both served well and kept the returners empty-handed.
Rafael Nadal needed two wins to reach the ATP 250 final in Melbourne.
Nadal fired a forehand down the line winner in the third game, and Ruusuvuori locked the result at 2-2 with an unreturned serve. Rafa opened a 4-3 lead with a backhand winner in game seven before Emil held at love with an ace for 4-4.
The Spaniard secured the ninth game with a hold at love after a thrilling forehand volley winner at the net. Ruusuvuori lost focus in that tenth game and handed the set to his opponent after a forehand mistake. Nadal held at 15 in the second set's opening game with his first ace before Ruusuvuori clinched the second with a volley winner at the net for 1-1.
Rafa brought the third game home with a perfect drop shot winner and defended a break chance at 2-2 with another to keep his serve intact. Nadal earned a break opportunity in game six with a forehand crosscourt winner. Ruusuvuori erased it with a well-constructed attack to stay in touch with a great rival and keep his chances alive.
Rafa grabbed a break in game eight following the rival's loose backhand and served for the victory at 5-3. Instead of bringing the encounter home, Nadal got broken at 30 in game nine after a cheap forehand mistake to keep the youngster in contention.
Rafa struggled on serve again in game 12, losing ground a bit in those moments. The Spaniard saved a break point at 5-5 and created a match point with a forehand winner while returning in game 12. Nadal converted it when Ruusuvuori sprayed a backhand mistake to seal the deal and advance into the final.