Abu Dhabi: Rafael Nadal’s body may have failed him several times over recent years, but his indomitable spirit will never die.
This was exemplified by his record fourth Mubadala World Tennis Championship triumph in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, where he overpowered the gutsy tournament debutant David Goffin 6-4, 7-6 (5).
This followed wins on Thursday and Friday over Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic at the annual exhibition event, all three matches proving glimpses of the Spanish ace’s swashbuckling best.
The beautiful belligerence of his whipped forehand and the stunning intensity with which he plays each point were a veritable treat to behold.
And, belying his perma-scowl on court, Nadal is always charm personified when dealing with the media.
Asked to provide a message to his millions of fans, he said in his post-match press conference: “I just wish all of them a Happy New Year and a healthy year with lots of happiness.
“The only thing I can tell them is I worked a lot to try to put myself in a position to be competitive again, to enjoy again my tennis and I am going to try and make that that happen.”
The 14-time grand slam champion is currently only number nine in the world rankings after a succession of injuries; a wrist problem had sidelined him since October.
But he is in exemplary shape now, apparently.
The 30-year-old, who is heading to Australia to take part in next week’s Brisbane International, said: “I believe that if I am able to be healthy, normally history says I have good chances to compete well.”
Nadal did, however, caution against people judging his form too soon. “Let’s see [where I am] after Indian Wells and after the Miami Open [in March]. I cannot realise that after two or three events.
“Let’s wait a couple of months. I know I am working hard and motivated to keep going and have passion to keep going the same way, if results are positive or not positive.”
Saturday’s encounter was Nadal’s fifth final in his eighth appearance at the tournament, which has been staged nine times.
Proof positive, then, that he feels extremely at home here.
“I am very happy to have had the experience in Abu Dhabi again. I had three very positive matches.
“When I feel comfortable in one place and like the conditions and have won before, it’s easier to win again. I have had very positive feelings here for many years.”
As for the match itself, Nadal had to show steely resilience to withstand a stern test from the world No. 11 Goffin in the pair’s first match against each other. The duo were involved in numerous lengthy rallies as the Belgian underdog showed admirable grit and determination in the face of Nadal’s barrage of fearsome forehands.
The only break of the first set came at the most crucial time when Goffin was serving at 4-5, but the second set proved a far more intense battle as the sun subsided.
Breaks were twice exchanged, before Goffin created four chances to break for 6-5, only for the relentless Nadal to hold.
A tiebreak then ensued and Spaniard won this 7-5 to claim victory in one hour and 56 minutes.
“Today was a lot tougher [than the previous matches] with the shadows on court [due to the sun]. But when the shadows went, we played high-quality tennis.
MUBADALA WORLD TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP
Andy Murray bt Milos Raonic 6-3, 7-6 (8)
Rafael Nadal bt David Goffin 6-4, 7-6 (5)