LONDON, (Reuters) – The year dawned with a cloud hanging over Rafael Nadal’s career but will end with him on top of the world after a win over Stanislas Wawrinka at the ATP World Tour Finals yesterday that illustrated why he is in the pantheon of tennis greats.
He has certainly played better during a sensational season that began in February after a seven-month injury layoff, but the way he soaked up everything the Swiss could muster to complete a 7-6(5) 7-6(6) victory yesterday underlined Nadal’s almost fanatical refusal to be beaten.
Wawrinka walked off the cavernous showcourt wondering how he is yet to take a set off Nadal in 12 meetings, but it would be a harsh judge who criticised the world No.8 for failing to convert the fleeting chance that came and went in the second-set tiebreak.
He was within a whisker of taking a high-calibre opener too, but Nadal, as he has in winning 74 matches in a spectacular season of almost total dominance on all surfaces, proved armour-plated in defence and ruthless when invited to attack.
Nadal arrived in London for the glitzy season-ender needing two wins to fend off Novak Djokovic in his bid to end a year as world No.1 for the third time in his career.
After dismantling compatriot David Ferrer on Tuesday, he was stretched to the limit by Wawrinka in his second Group A match, digging deep to notch up another milestone.
By winning in straight sets he also assured himself of a place in the semi-finals here, and few would bet against the 13-times grand slam champion going on to claim the only significant title still missing from his CV.