Rafael Nadal had some doubts. David Ferrer exuded confidence from the start.
The two Spaniards, friends off the court, took different paths to victory yesterday as round-robin play began at the Masters Cup, the season-ending tournament for the top eight men's singles players and doubles pairs.
Second-ranked Nadal looked susceptible to an upset by France's Richard Gasquet — who was the last player to make the field and was seeking his first victory in four matches against the Spaniard — before rallying to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 on a day of Gold Group play.
Then, with Nadal watching from the players' box, sixth-ranked Ferrer came out hot, breaking No. 3 Novak Djokovic's powerful serve in the first game and never letting up for a 6-4, 6-4 triumph. The only nerves were shown by Djokovic, who admitted he got impatient while trying to break through a nearly impenetrable defense.
Ferrer saw the results as good on two levels, both because of his friendship with Nadal and for the boost that the dual triumphs will give the sport back home.
"It's important for the tennis in Spain," he said.
Nadal, known for his court speed, looked uncharacteristically slow and subdued as Gasquet took the first set. Even though both of his knees were taped, Nadal claimed he was feeling "perfect," but said he started a little nervous despite being the only player in his group to compete here before.
"Every match is very difficult because you play only against the best," he said. "So I start the match with, well, little bit doubts. But later I play a little bit more aggressive. I finish much better than I start."
Djokovic also admitted to a case of the jitters after committing 41 unforced errors to just 20 for Ferrer.
"If you come here as a young player and the third player of the world, one of the players that is probably the favorite in the match, then there is a lot of pressure," Djokovic said. "Unfortunately that pressure was pretty big today. It wasn't my day."
Top-ranked Roger Federer, the defending champion, opens play Monday in the Red Group against Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, who will be trying to give the Swiss star his first consecutive losses in 4 1/2 years. Federer is coming off a third-round loss at the Paris Masters to David Nalbandian, who isn't here because he is only ninth in the rankings.
Andy Roddick faces Nikolay Davydenko in the other Red Group match.
Gasquet's serve, so strong early, let him down. He got only 53 percent of his first serves in during the second set, and Nadal picked on his second serves, winning 10 of 13 points.
"It was important to serve well against Rafa," said Gasquet, who claimed his spot here by jumping five spots in the rankings after reaching the Paris semifinals last week. "My strategy was to go to the net every time ... because if you play at the baseline with him, with a lot of long shots, it's really hard."
Gasquet's downfall began when he shanked an overhead into the net on game point while serving at 1-2 in the second set. Nadal rallied to break and the 21-year-old Spaniard — 18 days older than Gasquet — was suddenly fired up, pumping his fists after winning key points.
With unforced errors piling up, Gasquet thought he had an ace while serving at 2-2, 30-30 in the final set, challenged the out call and lost, then double-faulted. He saved one break point, but back-to-back forehand errors then handed Nadal the last break he needed.
Ferrer said he played with confidence and never let up after getting the early break against the 20-year-old Djokovic, who won five ATP titles this year and reached his first Grand Slam final, losing in the U.S. Open to Federer.
"I played really, really good," Ferrer said.
He refused to give Djokovic an opening in the first set, broke the Serb for a 5-4 lead in the second and fended off a break point while serving for the match.
"He proved that he's a great player and absolutely he deserved to win," Djokovic said. "He was moving really well. He was aggressive."
The tournament got off to a flashy start as organizers unveiled life-sized statues portraying the eight singles competitors as terracotta warriors, wielding rackets as their weapons. Nadal wasn't sure what to do with his if he gets to keep it.
"I don't know where I can put the terracotta," he said, laughing. "Maybe at the entrance to the house. But outside, not inside."Reuse content