Abu Dhabi: A typically bullish Rafael Nadal insists he will improve as he regains his fiercely competitive instincts after he lost his first match following a two-month injury break at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Friday.
Nadal said he struggled for fluency and fitness on making his return to action after having his appendix removed in November, and therefore was not too downcast by his 6-2, 6-0 thrashing at the hands of an impressive Andy Murray.
Yet, despite losing heavily to Murray in the first Mubadala semi-final in one hour and 28 minutes, the 14-time Grand Slam champion said he would not deviate from his successful strategy of ‘trying my best every single day’.
“This was not the best start possible against a tough rival in Andy Murray,” the 28-year-old, who was also blighted by wrist injuries before his appendectomy, said. “But there are only small things I need to adjust.
“At the beginning, I played very badly with my backhand, but that is normal after a long time out, and could not get my normal rhythm. I was also a little bit more tired than usual.”
Despite the one-sided scoreline, Nadal insisted it did not accurately reflect how well he played at times, with Murray having to stave off a succession of break points.
He said: “6-2, 6-0 is too much. I had a lot of chances to have a closer result. I have to improve, that’s obvious, and I’m going to improve. This match helps me and the defeat does not affect me too much.
“I felt I was dominating the points a lot of times, but I am missing competitive spirit. I am going to keep working hard [to regain that].”
Arguably only Roger Federer inspires more hero worship in the game than the flamboyant Nadal, and this was reflected in a 5,000 sell-out for the eagerly awaited encounter at Zayed Sports City Tennis Stadium.
Yet, from the outset, it was clear that Nadal was short of peak condition following his injury absence, as the Spaniard unsurprisingly lacked precision and committed a rash of backhand errors in his first match of the year.
In contrast, Murray, who has had the benefit of a two-hour and 30-minute win over Feliciano Lopez in the opening match of the three-day tournament on Thursday, was by far the sharper of the two.
Murray has clearly reaped the benefits of a gruelling pre-season fitness camp in Miami, displaying aggression off both wings and producing some wonderful passing shots.
Yet, while Nadal was short of his imperious best in the early stages, the Spaniard’s famed whipped forehand — perhaps the most glorious shot in tennis — was still much in evidence.
The Scot broke his rusty opponent to 15 to take a 2-0 lead and repeated the feat when Nadal tamely netted a return to take the first set 6-2.
A double fault in the second game of the second set from Nadal handed Murray the initiative again as the two-time Grand Slam champion broke for a 2-0 advantage.
The tennis was now of the highest order from both players, with Murray staving off five break points from a tenacious Nadal to move 3-0 ahead after an epic game lasting 13 minutes and 49 seconds.
Murray moved inexorably towards victory by capitalising on more Nadal errors to break to 15 in the next game.
Yet a combination of Nadal’s brilliance and rare mistakes from the Scot threatened to check his momentum, as the indomitable Spaniard carved out four break points at 4-0 down — only to fail to take any of them.
Murray was fearless, his defences impenetrable, and he moved 5-0 ahead with a delightful drop shot, before completing the rout by breaking Nadal again.
Nadal will now take on Stan Wawrinka in the third and fourth-place play-off at 5pm on Saturday.
World number one and defending Mubadala champion Novak Djokovic beat Wawrinka 6-1, 6-2 in Friday’s late match and he will now meet Murray in Saturday’s final from 7pm.