Nadal slams French Santoro to post season-first win

World number one tennis player Rafael Nadal dominated French Fabrice Santoro 6-0, 6-1 in his first match of the ATP season in Doha. Roger Federer and Andy Murray also sailed through the first round.


AFP - Rafael Nadal needed little more than three-quarters of an hour to score his first victory on the 2009 ATP World Tour, his crushing success appearing like an omen of yet further triumphs to come.

The Wimbledon, French Open and Olympic champion won 6-0, 6-1 against Fabrice Santoro in the first round of the Qatar Open, overwhelming the oldest man on the tour with his heavy hitting and relentless energy.

Santoro, a 36-year-old former Davis Cup hero who is playing his last, and a reduced, season, made his first appearance on Wimbledon's centre court only six months ago, and was now playing his first match against the mighty Nadal.

He may have wished he wasn't.

It was not till the ninth game that the clever Frenchman won one, and all his slices, variations of pace and tactical subtleties created little distraction for the muscular Spaniard. Fully 51 of the 66 points in the match were won by Nadal.

"It was really impressive being on the other side of the net against Nadal," said Santoro generously.

"Now I understand why Roger Federer missed volleys playing against him, something I previously couldn't understand," he added, referring to the deceptive weight of shot which Nadal creates, rather than the speed of hitting.

Nadal was pleased to win so quickly. "I hope to do that," he said, unconcerned at the brevity of the match practice.

"With my topspin, his ball is not the worst one for me. When he plays slice, that's a good ball for me."

Nadal felt pleased to have played such a close match in the exhibition final against Andy Murray in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, even though he lost it, believing that his preparation for the Australian Open in 12 days time is now further advanced.

But he was not prepared to suggest how far close he is, at this early stage, to his best. "You are never sure how far away you are," he said. "It's very important to practise every day with one hundred percent concentration."

Nadal became most animated when discussing his difficulties of 2008, when after winning three major titles, he was too tired to do himself full justice in the US Open and then was unable to play either the Davis Cup final or the ATP Tour year-end championships in Shanghai.

"What can I do?" he said. "Most of the tournaments I play I have to play," he said, referring to the ATP World Tour regulations. "I play here to prepare for the Australian Open and I play Barcelona (a home tournament). But I can't change my schedule."

Meanwhile, Federer also progressed quickly. The winner of 13 Grand Slam titles started the new tour with an imperious 6-2, 6-2 success over Potito Starace, the world number 71, and now plays a second successive Italian, Andreas Seppi, who is almost 40 places higher.

Federer, who had been at risk of losing his world number two ranking, is now certain to hold on to it at least until the end of the Australian Open on February 1.

That is because Novak Djokovic, the world number three from Serbia, who is a mere ten ranking points behind him, started the 2009 season with a shock loss.

Djokovic gave up the chance of big appearance money in the Middle East to go straight to the antipodes to prepare for the defence of his Australian Open title. But he suffered a startling 6-4, 6-4 loss in Brisbane to Ernests Gulbis, the talented world number 53 from Latvia.

Federer should have a second semi-final in eight days against Andy Murray, the dangerously improving world number four from Scotland.

Murray, the titleholder, beat Albert Montanes, a top 50 Spaniard by 6-2, 6-4 with remarkable lack of nerves for the opening match of the season.

"Because of the matches last week it kind of settled me down a little bit, and I kind of felt I was hitting the ball well," said Murray, referring to his victories over Nadal and Federer in the exhibition in Abu Dhabi.

"Now when I go on the court I know what my mindset has to be and I just go out and play. There was no need to be nervous today."

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