Rafael Nadal will compete in Doha in a couple of weeks, returning to the prestigious ATP 250 event for the first time since 2016. The 2014 champion kicked off the 2016 season in Doha after shaky results in 2015, missing a Major or a Masters 1000 title for the first time since 2004!
Nadal earned four wins in Doha en route to a place in the final, not playing at his best against rivals from outside the top-60 but arranging the title clash versus world no. 1 Novak Djokovic. Rafa most likely forgot the encounter as soon as they finished following a crashing 6-1, 6-2 defeat in 73 minutes!
Novak embraced his career-best season in 2015, earning many records and extending his run at the beginning of 2016 against an opponent who could not follow his level.
Djokovic and Nadal fought for the tenth time after the 2013 US Open final, and the Serb beat the Spaniard for the ninth time, expending his dominance over a great rival and lifting the trophy.
Djokovic served at 75% and dropped ten points in eight service games. World no. 1 saved the only break point offered to his rival and kept the pressure on the other side. Nadal stood miles away from that pace, giving away half of the points in his games and suffering four breaks from seven chances offered to his rival.
Playing with confidence, Novak landed 30 winners and drew almost 20 mistakes from Rafa, taming his strokes nicely and sailing toward the title. Djokovic dominated every segment, outplaying Nadal in the shortest, mid-range and most advanced exchanges, finishing his day at the office in under 75 minutes.
Rafa made a good start and created a break chance in the first game of the encounter after Novak's wayward forehand. The Serb saved it with a forehand winner, avoiding an early setback and gaining a boost. Djokovic secured a break at 15 in the second game, attacking and forcing Nadal's backhand mistake for an early advantage.
Novak cemented the lead with a hold at 15 in game three, firing a service winner and forging a 3-0 lead after 14 minutes. Djokovic fired a backhand winner for 30-30 in the fourth game before Nadal landed two winners to wrap up the game and get his name on the scoreboard.
Rafael Nadal claimed three games against Novak Djokovic in Doha 2016.
Novak produced another fine hold in the fifth game, hitting an unreturned serve and moving 4-1 in front. World no. 1 cracked a forehand down the line winner in the sixth game, creating a break point and painting a backhand crosscourt winner for another break and a 5-1 lead.
Djokovic served for the opener in game seven, landing two service winners and creating three set points with a forehand winner. The Serb converted the first with a powerful serve, wrapping up the opener 6-1 in 31 minutes and gathering a massive boost.
Firing from all cylinders, Novak cracked a forehand winner in the first game of the second set, earning two break chances. Nadal saved them before experiencing the third following Djokovic's drop shot winner.
Rafa sprayed a forehand error, losing serve and finding himself a set and a break down.
Novak cemented the lead with a hold at 15 in game two after a forced error before Rafa reduced the deficit to 2-1 with a service winner a few minutes later. Djokovic hit a smash winner in the fourth game and closed it with a mighty forehand winner for a 3-1 lead.
The Serb attacked in the fifth game and punched a backhand down the line winner for a break point, hitting in full throttle in every point. Novak seized it with another fine attack and a smash winner, dominating his great rival and earning another boost of confidence.
Djokovic secured the sixth game with a crafty volley winner, opening a 5-1 lead and forcing Nadal to serve to stay in the match after 64 minutes. The Spaniard held at 30 in the seventh game, prolonging the battle and hoping for some chances on the return in the next one.
Instead, Novak painted a forehand down the line winner at 5-2 for three match points. He seized the second with a powerful serve, completing one of his most dominant victories over Nadal and kicking off the season with a trophy.
Rafa will not think much about this duel when he returns to Doha in a couple of weeks, hoping to play injury-free and boost his confidence after many setbacks. Nadal missed a year due to a hip injury, ruining his 2023 season and dropping out from the top-600!
Rafa made a comeback in Brisbane at the beginning of this year, eager to embrace competitive matches after the most extended break of his career.
Nadal took down Dominic Thiem and Jason Kubler after rock-solid tennis before facing Jordan Thompson in the quarter-final. The Spaniard experienced a massive blow, wasting three match points in a 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 loss in nearly three and a half hours!
To make things even worse, Nadal felt the pain around his hip again, revealing a micro tear in his muscle and skipping the Australian Open. The Spaniard should be ready for Doha, returning to the desert for the first time in eight years.