The tournament’s two top-seeded-players headlined semi-finals action on Day 2 at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships. Rafael Nadal made his highly anticipated return to the court after he had lost in the quarterfinals in Basel to Borna Coric in October 2014. The Spaniard’s last year came to a premature end after contracting appendicitis and withdrawing for surgery in November. Nadal, a two time champion in Abu Dhabi (2009 and 2011), struggled in particular in the beginning of the match aginst Andy Murray with his backhand, simply hit too many errors and never got to his rhythm this evening. The Brit seemed to be surprisingly fit and fresh on court given the fact that he played a two and a half hours match just 24 hours ago. Murray kept the pace, broke the Spaniard’s serve in the second set three times after winning the opening frame in 40 minutes. Murray, the tournament’s inaugural champion from 2009, ended Nadal’s comeback trail in one hour and 28 minutes winning 6-2, 6-0.
“It’s not the best possible start facing a tough rival like Andy Murray. It was the first match at a competitive level after a long time for me. In the beginning I played pretty badly with my backhand, which made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I had no rhythm, was a lot of times out of the position but 6-2, 6-0 is a bit too much, as I had a lot of chances to get a closer result. Anyway. It’s a perfect start here competing with the top players. Matches like this will help me to improve,” Nadal told about today’s performance. “The main thing is that Andy was able to finish the season and also participated in the Asia League later. He was on rhythm. He actually never stopped playing and this straight for one year in a row without any injuries. I only played six months but I will try to do my best and keep working hard. I lost to David Ferrer here in 2012 the same way like today but it doesn’t matter. After that I was able to play very well in Melbourne,” the Spaniard concluded.
Murray obviously was satisfied with his performance today gaining two victories in 2015 and it’s only January 2nd. “It was a tough match for me. The result sounds easy but it wasn’t at all. Rafa had a couple of break points and there were a lot of long deuce and advantage games. I managed to win a lot of big points, which helped and overall it was a good quality match. I moved well and had a good progress from yesterday,” the British world number six analysed. “My shoulder is a bit sore. I don’t actually know what happened as there has never happened anything to me left shoulder before. Obviously I do not use it so much, only on my backhand. I have never had an issue like that before. When I was signing autographs after the match, it was quite painful and I went to my physio, had some treatment with ice and we will see how it feels when I wake up tomorrow. It’s quite a strange thing,” Murray explained and added that he will decide tomorrow in the morning, if he is able to compete the final.
On Saturday, he is going to face Novak Djokovic, who finished 2014 at World Number 1 after taking home the ATP World Tour Finals trophy in London for the third consecutive year. The 27-year-old Serb returned to Abu Dhabi in order to defend his title in the desert taking on Stanislas Wawrinka for the 20th time. In the last encounter outdoors between the two, Djokovic fell to the eventual Australian Open champion in Melbourne’s quarterfinal. Today, a one-way-traffic-encounter took the Serb only 57 minutes winning 6-1, 6-2.
“I have no complaints with today’s match. From the first to the last point I executed everything I wanted. Of course I haven’t played an official match for a month, so I am really glad to play on such a high level against the best players in the world,” Djokovic stated afterwards. “It’s only the second day of the year. You’re motivated and inspired to play the best tennis you can. I am feeling fresh and I am looking forward to the season. That is what all of the guys are feeling. Murray played exceptionally well today. Hopefully we can put up a good final for the crowd,” the world number one told and added that he met Janko Tipsarevic, who is practicing in Dubai. “We are good friends. I haven’t seen him for a long time. Good to see him again. I’m feeling for what he is going through. He had a surgery and for almost twelve months, he has experienced the uncertainty if he is able to come back. Unfortunately he will not make it to Australia but he tries to be back on court in February,” the Serb said about his countryman.
In terms of his own preparation, Djokovic feels perfectly prepared by his coaches Boris Becker and Marian Vajda for the new season. “My team is more than a team for me. It’s like family. It’s important to stick together. Their support means a lot to me. I have a lot of trust in them and their expertise. It flows very easy and results are showing that this partnership is pretty successful. I have been playing some of my best tennis in the last couple of years. The last two tournaments of the 2014 season in Paris and London, I only dropped one set in both events. I am trying to maintain this rhythm as if I consistently play on a high level, I know that I have a very good chance against anybody on any surface,” Djokovic is looking confident.
The tennis day in the desert started with a fifth place play-off seeing an all-Spanish affair between Feliciano López and Nicolas Almagro. The latter, world number 71 and therewith lowest ranked player in the Abu Dhabi draw, was in control of the match right from the beginning and sealed victory in one hour and 17 minutes winning 6-4, 7-6. Both players met two times before on the ATP World Tour (1-1 head to head record) but it was their first encounter on hard court.
“I am very happy to be back with my tennis. It’s difficult to get back to the level I had before my injury but I will try. Yesterday, it was tough. I didn’t feel really good with my movement and my foot again and lost a bit of my confidence, as it was my first match after a long time. Today it was different, it was a little bit better,” Almagro told afterwards but also confirmed that he pulled out of next week’s ATP 250 in Doha. The Spaniard has been sidelined since Roland Garros in May last year and said that he did things, he normally can’t do during the season. “During the last couple of months, I was with my family, who were with me and supported me. I decided to clean my mind and I never watched tennis on TV. I tried to do different things. I started to learn golf, nonetheless I had confidence to come back,” the 29-year-old from Murcia told and added that he bought his own golf course.