|World Number One Nadal won the first point of the opening game at the Qatar Open on a challenge [AFP]
Roger Federer won his opening match at the Qatar Open following a stern test from his 21-year-old opponent.
On a cool Tuesday evening in the Qatari capital, Doha, Federer beat Thomas Schoorel from the Netherlands, in straight sets 7-6 6-3.
Both players found their serves quickly and neither player broke the other's serve throughout the first set, which was dominated by Schoorel's left hand serve and Federer's sliced backhands.
Although their ranking, Schooler (168) and Federer (2), suggested a complete mismatch was on the cards, Schooler gave Federer a stern test.
At one point, Federer fans were worried that he might fall at the first hurdle as he seemed to be suffering from a hangover from his loss in the final in Abu Dhabi last week. Federer had a major scare in the 10th game on serve, being forced to save three consecutive set points.
But finally it was a catalogue of Schooler unforced errors that cost him the first set in the deciding tie break. At the crucial moments, he first hit too long and then netted a return to give the former world number one the tie break.
Schoorel continued to pressure his opponent's serve in the second set. In the second game Federer again faced break points, which he negotiated with a deft cross court volley and a lightening serve of 191kph.
Federer finally managed to break his opponent's serve in the fourth game of the second set as the young Dutchman wilted under pressure and made a series of unforced errors. Federer was then able to safely serve out the match, winning the final set 6-3 despite all endeavours of Schoorel.
The crowd, which had been buzzing with the anticipation of seeing the Swiss tennis legend, retained their enthusiasm throughout the contest. They were rewarded particularly in the eighth game of the second set, when Federer presented a memorable moment at the end of a see-saw rally - somehow fashioning a groundstroke between his legs to win the point, much to the bemusement of his opponent.
After winning the match, Federer acknowledged his opponent's talent. "He's got a great future ahead of him," Federer said. "That's how the new year starts, lots of pressure and tough play."
Federer added that he is thrilled to be back in Qatar. "It really does help, to have this home-away-from-home feeling. It is important for us tennis players as we are on tour 11 of the 12 months of the year."
Nadal v Beck
Doha tennis fans were later treated to Rafael Nadal, the current world number one, opening his tournament against Slovakia's Karol Beck.
Nadal's match was more straightforward than Federer's and he beat Beck, ranked 103, 6-3 6-0. The Spanish clay court specialist found the hard court to his liking and raced into a 3-0 lead, finding his serving range immediately and passing his opponent with ease both on the forehand and backhand side.
Beck held serve to claw back to 3-1, and then made it 3-2 as he broke Nadal's serve when the Spaniard lost a challenge on break point.
From thereon however, Nadal looked determined to finish off the set as quickly as possible. The nine-time Grand Slam winner moved up the gears as Beck struggled to return his powerful backhand, closing out the set 6-3.
The second set started on an exciting note as Nadal won the first point of the opening game on a challenge, and thereafter there was no looking back for the Spaniard. Nadal repeatedly passed his opponent with fearsome groundstrokes. He also cleverly varied the pace of his serve ranging between 135kph to just over 200kph, thus confusing his opponent.
Only at the start of the sixth game of the second set did Nadal appear troubled by the Slovakian, falling 15-40 behind on his serve. However he regained his concentration and closed out this game and the set for a deserved 6-0 scoreline.
A confident Nadal said at the end of the match, "It's good to start another year with a victory, it's a pleasure to be in Qatar."
Source: Al Jazeera