Nadal starts 2010 on winning note with Gulf victory

ABU DHABI: Rafael Nadal got his year off to a winning start when he defeated Robin Soderling 7-6 (7/3), 7-5 in the final of the Capitala World Tennis Championship exhibition tournament here on Saturday.

Soderling had beaten Nadal in their two previous ATP Tour meetings, ending the Spaniard's reign in the French Open and then dumping him in the World Tour finals in London and he was the more aggressive of the two in the opening stages.

"It's very important to start the season on a winning note and because I haven't won a tournament for over six months," said Nadal whose last trophy came in May 2009.

Nadal also paid tribute to Soderling despite the two having enjoyed a stormy relationship in the past.

"He's a good competitor and has a lot of potential. It's normal that he should be in the world top 10."

Nadal had the first two break points of the final at 5-5 only for the big Swede to pull through thanks to some big first serves.

Nadal then also saved two set points from 15-40 down in the following game before forcing the tie-break which he comfortably won 7/3 on the back of some typically stunning defensive work.

Soderling needed to save another break point to avoid going 1-3 down in the second before levelling at 2-2.

But two games later he handed Nadal two more break points with a weak volley at the net and the former world No.1 banked the second of these when the Swede hit wide.

The door was wide open for Nadal, but Soderling belied the tournament's exhibition status by digging deep to break back in the following game before levelling at 4-4.

The Swede then saved three match points two games later with an angled volley to get to 5-5, but Nadal was by now well on top and he finished off the tiring Swede at 7-5.

Nadal next heads to nearby Doha where he will open the ATP regular season as second seed to Roger Federer, while Soderling travels to Chennai in India where he will be the top seed.

Federer took third place here, beating Spain's David Ferrer 6-1, 7-5.