Rafael Nadal began his bid for a maiden title at the season-ending ATP Finals with a straightforward win over Russian debutant Andrey Rublev on Sunday at an empty O2 Arena in London.
Spanish second seed Nadal, 34, won 6-3 6-4 as the tournament began in London for the final time.
Earlier on the opening day, third seed Dominic Thiem avenged his defeat by Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in last year’s final with a three-set victory.
US Open champion Thiem won 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-3.
Nadal’s straight-set success moved him above the Austrian at the top of Group London 2020 – named in tribute to the event’s 50th anniversary – after the opening matches.
Beating in-form Rublev – who has won more matches and more titles than anyone else on the ATP Tour this year – was the perfect start for Nadal who has just a single indoor hard court title to his name out of his 86 career triumphs.
“I am very pleased with the victory, it changes the perspective of the tournament a little bit,” said Nadal, who lost in the 2010 and 2013 finals.
“I know I have a super difficult match against Dominic but a win in two sets helps for the confidence.”
Eighth seed Rublev struggled on serve in the first set – admitting it was a sign of nerves on his Finals debut – and was punished when Nadal earned the decisive break for a 4-2 lead, which he did not relinquish and subsequently ended the match without facing a single break point.
“When he broke me in the second set I started to relax but by then it was too late,” Rublev said.
“My serve worked really well, that always helps on this surface and I had a few chances on the return, which I converted,” added 20-time Grand Slam winner Nadal, who won 81% of his service points and converted two of five break points.