World number one Rafael Nadal celebrated the New Year with a long-awaited atonement and a resolution to win a uniquely elusive title.
The top-seeded Spaniard’s 6-2, 7-6 (9/7) win against Lukas Rosol, a Czech who upset him sensationally in the second round of Wimbledon 2012, carried him into the second round of the Qatar Open on Tuesday.
This is the only ATP World Tour tournament which Nadal has failed in five attempts to win.
Nadal insisted, however, revenge was far from his mind despite celebrating the win with an extravagant air punch.
“I never take revenge,” he said. “Thinking about revenge is a bad way to start a match, in my opinion.
“You have to start calm and with the mind very open to analyse what’s going on in the match.
“I was a little bit nervous. I didn’t have a great memory of the last match against him. After that I hadn’t played for almost eight months, so it was a bad feeling.”
There were moments when it seemed Rosol’s strident style might again prove disruptive for Nadal, especially in a second set in which the top seed had repeatedly to summon his fighting qualities against the world number 47.
Rosol earned two break points in the third game of that set, another break point in the fifth game, and another in the ninth, which he converted with some heavy drives that forced Nadal to counter-hit a backhand into the net.
But Rosol could not serve the set out. He got within two points at 30-all, but Nadal was too consistent for him, and after that it always seemed that Rosol’s error ratio would be too high.
Partly that was due to his forthright style, but it meant that although Rosol twice earned mini-breaks in the tie-breaker they were followed by a calamitous sequence of four driving errors. These allowed Nadal to advance to 6-3 and to three successive match points.
Somehow Rosol saved them all, and a fourth match point at 7-6, but at the fifth attempt Nadal closed it out. He did that with a solid first serve which elicited a return into the net and time to prepare for New Year celebrations.
“I am happy to be in the second round and I would love to win the singles here,” he said, “but the first week of the season and beginnings are not easy.
“Last year – or is it this year – was very special for me,” Nadal later said, referring to his recapture of the world number one ranking during 2013 after so long away from competition.
He next plays Tobias Kamke, the world number 74 from Germany, and could progress to a quarter-final with Ernests Gulbis, the seventh-seeded Latvian who is another flat hard-hitter capable of taking top players out of their comfort zone.
Earlier Wimbledom champion Andy Murray needed only 37 minutes to win his first match in four months on the ATP world Tour.
Murray was a 6-0, 6-0 winner against Qatar’s Mousa Zayed, in his comeback from surgery on a back injury which also caused pain in his leg and foot.
But the brief evidence of Tuesday’s mismatch victory over a local wild card entry is that the operation may have been a success and his freedom of movement improved.
Murray next plays Florian Mayer, the world number 40 from Germany, and could be headed for a quarter-final with Fernando Verdasco, the eighth-seeded Spaniard.
Later titleholder Richard Gasquet began his defence with a straight sets win, despite rumours that he might withdraw because of a back ailment sustained in practice here three days ago.
The fifth-seeded Frenchman appeared vulnerable on his second serve, but struck the ball sweetly off the ground in a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Karim Hossam, a wild card player from Egypt.
It earned Gasquet a meeting with his compatriot Gael Monfils, who is still remembered for contesting a fine final with Roger Federer here in 2006, and with whom the head-to-head reckoning stands at four wins each.