The 20-time Major champion Rafael Nadal has never been a fan of indoor tennis, winning one ATP crown on a hard court with a roof above his head. Rafa is yet to lift the trophy at the ATP Finals, qualifying for the premium ATP event for 16 consecutive years but never heading all the way after two title match losses against Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in 2010 and 2013.
Struggling with many post-US Open injuries, Rafa had to skip the ATP Finals on six occasions, reaching the last semi-final in 2015 and finishing the journey in the round-robin stage despite two wins a year ago. Competing at only three tournaments since September, Rafa arrived in London more rested than ever, seeking that elusive crown and making a winning start on Sunday night.
Nadal ousted a debutant Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 17 minutes, securing the 19th ATP Finals victory and leaving Jimmy Connors and Stefan Edberg on 18. It was their first encounter since the US Open 2017, and the Spaniard held the strings firmly in his hands, dropping 12 points in ten service games and never experiencing troubles.
Returning Rublev's serves with aggression, Rafa broke the opponent once in each set to notch the victory and make a winning start. Dominating with his initial shot, Nadal fired 16 winners and 11 unforced errors, leaving the Russian on 19 winners and 23 mistakes.
Hitting a service winner in almost 40% of all the points behind the initial shot, Rafa forged a massive 44-28 advantage in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, standing in the court on the second-serve return and doing everything to keep the points on his racquet.
Rafael Nadal became the ninth player with 19 ATP Finals victories.
The Spaniard hit a service winner in the opening game for a promising start before Rublev responded in the same style to get his name on the scoreboard.
The Spaniard held at love at 11 with another unreturned serve, matched by the Russian who locked the result at 2-2 with an ace. A forehand down the line winner ensured another comfortable hold for the Spaniard in game five, staying in touch on the return in the next one and gaining a break when Rublev sprayed a forehand error.
A service winner sent Rafa 5-2 in front, serving for the set at 5-3. World no. 2 hit three winners to close the opener in 36 minutes in that ninth game, playing well so far and hoping for more of the same in set number two. With momentum on his side, Nadal grabbed a break in the first game, holding after deuce with a service winner to move 6-3, 2-0 in front.
Andrey sprayed a forehand error in game four to find himself 3-1 down, holding with a forehand winner a few minutes later to remain within one break deficit. The Spaniard forced an error from his opponent in game eight, forcing Rublev to serve for staying in the match at 3-5.
The youngster held after deuce to extend his chances before Nadal brought the next game home at 15 to seal the deal and make a strong start at the season finale.