ABU DHABI, January 1, 2016
Rafael Nadal and Milos Raonic will compete in Saturday’s final of the 8th edition of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi. The two celebrated their first victories of the new season, winning the semi-finals matches in the desert.
First up on centre court at Zayed Sports City was the all-Spanish-affair featuring Nadal and David Ferrer. Both players met on the tour 30 times with Nadal having won 24 of the encounters. Ferrer gained his last victory over his compatriot on the dirt in Monte Carlo in 2014 and still has to wait celebrating another one. In the probably best match of the tournament so far, Nadal clinched the opening set and saved set point in the 10th game of the second frame to even score at 5-5 but Ferrer finally took the match the distance winning the tie-break through a punishing forehand longline winner.
Nadal, who has come to Abu Dhabi with almost his entire entourage including his two coaches Toni Nadal and Francisco Roig, as well as his girl-friend Xisca, moved well on the court and capitalized on his first break point chance in the third set to gain an early 2-0 lead. Ferrer broke back in the fifth game, benefitting of Nadal’s unforced errors but an aggressive former world number one came to the net and gained the decisive break in the eighth game. Nadal finished off the match in the following, winning 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 in two hours and 23 minutes.
“I started very well and it was a great match. The intensity and rhythm of the game was like after six months of the season. We both were happy about the way we played,” Nadal was pleased after his first victory of the new season.
When Nadal was asked if he is able to close the gap to Federer and Djokovic in 2016, having a problem when he faced the current top-ranked players on the tour, he simply stated: “I did not have a problem when I met these players – the problem was that I didn’t meet these players,” he laughed and added that he is working hard in order to change this situation during the new season.
“For about three or four months I have been playing better and I feel more comfortable on the court again. Today was a confirmation for that but of course I need to keep working hard,” the 29-year-old Spaniard told and added that he actually did not watch the victory of Stan Wawrinka at Roland Garros last year.
“At this time I was practicing in Stuttgart. I only watched the second set. I arrived from Mallorca and I went straight to the practice courts. I did not watch enough to have an opinion but Stan is a top player, very dangerous for everyone. That he won the final in Paris against Djokovic was a surprise but he plays amazing and deserved it.”
Stan Wawrinka, however, should not become Nadal’s opponent on Saturday due to a decent performance by Milos Raonic in the second semi-finals encounter. Although the Swiss had the better start being 5-2 up in the opening set, Raonic gained five games in a row to clinch the first set in the 12th game. The current Roland Garros champion lost his service in the seventh game of the second set, as a consequence of three backhand errors in a row and a lucky point by Raonic. The 25-year-old Canadian couldn’t serve out in first place but eventually sealed victory in the 12th game, winning 7-5, 7-5 in 90 minutes.
“I just felt like keep going for it,” Raonic told about the situation being 2-5 down at the beginning of the match. “Maybe I was able to put a bit more pressure on him and then he let me free up a little up, getting a chance to play a bit more,” he told about the key to success.
In his spare time, Raonic enjoys his first visit to Abu Dhabi. “I took a helicopter tour over the city. All the way down to Emirates Palace. I also went to the Grand Mosque and watched the fireworks yesterday. It’s been a pleasant time here,” he said and is looking forward to the final.
Raonic had lost six matches in a row against Nadal before he was able to capture his first victory over the Spaniard at the ATP Masters 1000 in Indian Wells last March, winning in three sets.
“I am happy with the way things are progressing. I am hoping to play better tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough match for sure. Rafa makes it tough, even when he is not in his tip-top shape. From watching today, he played really well, so it’s going to be an exciting opportunity tomorrow,” he told and added:
“Rafa is a guy, who needs matches and he played a lot by the end of the year. He’s got these matches behind him and obviously he feels comfortable and will find answers. Hopefully I can take some of those answers away tomorrow.”
Earlier the day, Feliciano López, who replaced Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who withdrew from the tournament due to right forearm injury, clinched the fifth place. The 34-year-old Spaniard defeated Kevin Anderson, winning 7-6, 7-6 in one hour and 40 minutes.
“I am a good friend of this tournament and the organizers invited me to play, so it actually happened out of sudden. But I am happy having the chance to play here again. It’s a great preparation for me in order to get to Doha next, which is only a 40 minutes flight away from here,” told López, who arrived in Abu Dhabi only on New Year’s Eve, to play his opening match of the season.
“The first match is always tough. You expect to be fit and strong but every year is different. Although, I had a great season last year, you never know what’s gonna happen the year after. So the start into the new season is very important. Of course, there is not that much to say after the first match but I am happy with the way I played. Physically I feel ready again,” the Spanish veteran said and added that his marriage during the off-season did not change his life substantially.
“I have a ring, which I didn’t have before. That’s the only difference,” he smiled. “But the rest of my life did not change at all. Nonetheless, in terms of my personal life as well of my tennis career it was a beautiful year. I hope that 2016 will continue the same,” the Toledo native added and hopes to continue with some strong perfromances in 2016.
“For me it is always a goal to be ranked inside the top 10. I didn’t make it last year but at least reached a personal career high 12th position. I hope that I can play the same way this season, as 2015 was a successful year. If I am able to play like this, I might have a chance to crack the top 10. But therefore it is important to stay healthy. This is the priority in my career,” the current world number 17 told about his goals for the season.
López has already announced that he will also build a team with Marc López in 2016.”I am very happy to team up with probably my best friend on the tour. I have to be aware that Marc and Marcel (Granollers) were very successful, having reached the season final during the last four years. I need to play my best tennis to keep the level. But it will be very interesting. We haven’t played a match together, but if we work on certain things, we will be able to play well in 2016. We have different games, as he is a baseliner and I am a more aggressive player. If we are able to combine our styles, we can play good tennis,” he said and added that participating at the Olympic Games is still another goal for him.
“It’s so tough to qualify for the Olympic Games. I played in Athens and London but I missed Beijing and it would be great to be part of the Olympic Games again. I love to represent my country, this is a completely different feeling compared to life on the tour. Staying in the Olympic village with all the other great sportspersons is a fabolous experience. You can meet all the athletes you admire so much like Usain Bolt or Lebron James,” López said and will leave for Doha on Saturday to kick-off the official ATP World Tour season.