Nadal
Nadal with the MWTC trophy in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Reuters

Abu Dhabi: In what was easily one of the most intense Mubadala World Tennis Championship finals, World No. 1 Rafael Nadal rallied from a set down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7(3), 7-5, 7-6(3) at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex last night.

It was a terrific game that went the distance with both players testing the other to the maximum and in the process dishing out a brand of tennis that could very easily be dubbed as epic.

Nadal won his fifth MWTC title in typically feisty fashion getting the better of a man who has openly spoken of upsetting the long held hierarchy of the men’s game.

Tsitsipas can for now at least revel in the fact that he dispatched World No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the semi-final of the competition Friday night.

Meanwhile, Djokovic heaped praise on the tournament saying the event over the years has helped top players in the men’s game get shipshape for the new season.

Djokovic was speaking at the post match conference that followed his third place play-off win over Karen Khachanov, which finished 7-5, 6-3, and lasted an hour and six minutes.

“We did have fun, it was a good match as well. The first set was quite close and I enjoyed playing him. He’s a good friend off the court and I had a powerful game against him, so I got what I came here for. I’ve played two good matches [the semi-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday] and this. I enjoyed this match play and to get a strong game early in the year is good that’s why we like coming here and it is the reason I really enjoy playing here,” Djokovic said.

The World No. 2 said not many exhibition tournaments around the world can boast of such a top class field and, moreover, experience.

“The match play is great and most players talk about how unique it is. We don’t get too many exhibition tournaments where you have the top players in the world so it’s really good preparation for the first week of the season,” the Serb added.

“I’ve played in this tournament 5-6 times and it is a tradition of mine to come to Abu Dhabi and play here. It works well because it is half-way between Europe and Australia and you have the right facilities so it’s a great tournament to be part of.”

Djokovic broke his Russian rival’s very first service game, but Khachanov restored equilibrium by breaking back immediately with the pair then holding serve until the Serb broke the World No. 17 for a second time in the 12th game of the set.

Djokovic seemed a well-oiled machine as the match played on and after Khachanov erred on the first two points the World No. 2 earned the third breakpoint drawing his opponent to the net with a slice drop and then hammering a backhand cross court winner that was unplayable. Khachanov failed to save a single point handing the set to Djokovic, who was even more dominant in the second.

Djokovic broke Khachanov in game four to go 3-1 up. Thereafter both held serve until the end with Games 7 and 8 perhaps the pick of the action, where once again Djokovic was the last man laughing.

In Game 7, of his own serve Djokovic played a drop that was recovered by Khachanov and then an overhead lob which the Russian hit back between his legs for a winner.

Djokovic returned the favour in the very next game as he swung the racquet behind his back to churn out a winner of his own.

Speaking of the points, Djokovic added: “That was definitely one of my highlights for 2019 and it’s something I’m going to show my kids for years to come.”

Khachanov echoed sentiments similar to Djokovic when saying the tournament fits right into his schedule and is a great way to warm up for the season, which starts in Australia.

“Today was more relaxed and it’s good to come and play some serious matches. It’s a great event you have amazing facilities, good courts to practice, a nice hotel and the conditions are similar to Australia. There’s also a great field of players to play against, so why not?” he said.