It may have just been an exhibition, but it was the first time in many a year that the two rivals had faced each other across the net, much to the delight of the packed audience at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
In general terms it has been a positive match, I even had my chances to win that second set. It's just a positive start. I played even better than what I thought a few weeks ago. Rafa Nadal
Rafa Nadal, playing for the first time since August following a left foot injury and Andy Murray, still fighting to rediscover his best form after hip surgery, put on a great display of tennis to highlight what fans had missed in their absence.
In what was a battle between two former world No.1s, the Scot, the inaugural and former two time winner of the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, won 6-3 7-5 to depose the defending champion.
“I think I did a lot of things well and other things, of course after a long period of time, I need to recover again, some things that when you’re under competition come automatically,” Nadal said after facing Murray for the first time since 2016.
“Now I have to think more, or you don’t have this extra time to make the right decisions.
“In general terms it has been a positive match, I even had my chances to win that second set.
“It’s just a positive start. I played even better than what I thought a few weeks ago.”
The 20-time Grand Slam champion revealed he had only started playing practice sets two days ago.
“In Mallorca for the last five months, I played zero of these matches. I just did exercises and something more under control to try and make the normal evolution for the foot,” explained Nadal.
On Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Nadal trained with world No.14 Denis Shapovalov, who was impressed.
“He killed me on the court yesterday, so I think he’s feeling pretty good,” said the 22-year-old Canadian.
Another intense session came against world No.5 Andrey Rublev, who said their two-and-a-half-hour hit left him “destroyed”.
Meanwhile, Murray was pleased with his two wins in the Abu Dhabi exhibition so far, having beaten fellow Briton Dan Evans on Thursday before dispatching Nadal in straight sets.
Again, as he had done against Evans, Murray moved well about the court and looked comfortable retrieving lost causes and striking a series of winners.
“I saw him playing well. I think last year he played some good tennis and it seems like he’s able to play more often now with less limitation. I see him moving well,” Nadal added.
“It is great being able to play at this level again after a very long time,” Murray said following his victory. “Me and Rafa have played so many matches over the years but both of us have gone through so many injury troubles and issues. It is great to have the opportunity to be on court with him again.
“It’s another chance to play against a top player. He hits a huge ball from the back of the court so will certainly test my movement out.”
The Scot will face Andrey Rublev in the final on Sunday the Russian having earlier battled past Denis Shapovalov 7-6 3-6 6-4 to progress into the last two.
Also earlier in the day, Taylor Fritz required a championship third set tie-break to beat Dan Evans
7-5 4-6 11-9 in the fifth-place play-off match.
Nadal, who has won the ‘exhibition’ a record five times in the 13 years it has been contested, will also be back in action on Sunday when he faces Shapovalov in the play-off for third place.
Following that, the Spaniard plans to fly to Melbourne to compete in an ATP 250 event ahead to prepare for the Australian Open. He will not be playing in the ATP Cup.
He was also asked to comment on the Australian Government’s strict Covid-19 regulations requiring all players to be vaccinated, but refused to be drawn apart from saying: “I am not with or without; I am just following what the organisation of health says. I don’t pretend to know more than the authorised people say.”