The Spaniard is playing the season-ending event for the 10th time in his career. His best previous results are two finals in 2010 and 2013, falling to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, respectively.
“It’s a positive start for me,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “The first match here is always very tricky—every match here is difficult, because you’re playing the best of the best. I’m very happy.”
It looked like things could be close early on as both players held serve comfortably in the first four games of the match, but from 2-all Nadal shifted gears, ripping his forehand to perfection and winning six of the next seven games—which included two breaks of serve—to build a 6-3, 2-0 lead.
Rublev, who was making his career debut at the ATP Finals, held his serve from there—but so did Nadal, and after eight more holds it was all over, the Spaniard closing out the one-hour, 17-minute victory with one last big serve up the middle that Rublev couldn’t get back in the court.
Nadal finished the match with 16 winners—including 12 off the forehand—to a total of 11 unforced errors. Rublev, meanwhile, ended with a negative differential of winners to unforced errors, 19 to 23.
The Spaniard also converted two of his five break points and never faced one himself.
“I just went on court with the determination to try to play my game,” he said. “I think my serve worked very well tonight, so that’s always a big help on this surface. Then I had a few chances on the return and I converted, so that’s the way the game is played indoors. I’m very pleased with the victory.”
Nadal has now won 70 matches in a row after winning the first set, the last time he lost from a set up being a 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (6) loss to Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals of Acapulco in February 2019.
Rublev, meanwhile, fell to 0-2 against Nadal, having lost their only previous encounter as well, in the 2017 US Open quarterfinals. The Russian is now 0-3 against Top 2 players, his best wins coming against a pair of No. 3s—Federer at Cincinnati in 2019 and Dominic Thiem in Vienna a few weeks ago.
“He’s had an amazing season,” Nadal said of Rublev afterwards. “Even under very difficult conditions he’s been able to win a lot of titles, so today’s victory is an important victory for me.
“I wish him all the best for the rest of the tournament.”
Rublev has won more titles (five) and more matches (40) than anyone on the tour this year.
Nadal’s next match will be against Thiem on Tuesday afternoon. Nadal leads the head-to-head, 9-5, but they’re 1-1 on hard courts—and this will be their first career meeting on indoor hard courts.
“Today changed my perspective for the tournament a little bit,” Nadal said. “I have a super difficult match against Dominic, but now I have one victory with two sets, which helps my confidence.”
Rublev will play Stefanos Tsitsipas on Tuesday night. Thiem beat Tsitsipas on Sunday afternoon.