Rafael Nadal has begun the new tennis season with a straight sets loss to David Ferrer at the Mudabala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.
Ferrer will face Novak Djokovic in the final of the exhibition tournament on Saturday, after the Serbian powerhouse beat France's Jo Wilfried Tsonga 7-6, 6-3 on Friday.
Nadal lost the all-Spanish semi-final 6-4, 6-4, ahead of the official ATP season-opener in nearby Doha next week.
Earlier, Wimbledon champion Andy Murray won his first match following a three-month layoff for a back injury when he beat Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 6-4 in the playoff for fifth place.
Nadal's loss was his first match since losing in straight sets to Djokovic in the final of the World Tour Finals in London on November 11.
Djokovic overcame Tsonga in 74 minutes to enter the final of the Mubadala Championship for the third time in three years and set up a repeat of last year's final against Ferrer.
The world number two was watched by his new part-time coach Boris Becker at the exhibition event.
The six-man exhibition event in Abu Dhabi was Djokovic's his first competition since winning both of his singles matches in Serbia's Davis Cup final loss to Czech Republic in mid-November.
He vowed not to take part in an official match again until the Australian Open from January 13, which he aims to win the for a fourth straight year.
"My first tournament is going to be here and the first official one is going to be in Melbourne," said Djokovic from Abu Dhabi.
"I'm not going to play in the opening weeks of the season because I feel like I didn't have enough time to get myself in the right shape for competition mode.
"It's why I've selected to play only in these few matches here and then move on to Melbourne (to prepare for the Open)."
Nadal said staying fit was more important in 2014 than adding to his 13 Grand Slam titles.
Nadal had one of the best season's of his career in 2013 following his return in February after seven months out with a knee injury, winning 10 tournaments including a record eighth French Open crown and a second US Open title.
"What I want is to be able to start the year well and in shape to compete in the big tournaments," Nadal told told Spain's As newspaper.
"In that sense, and thinking about 2014, I am not going to talk at the moment about winning the ninth Roland Garros or winning Wimbledon again, which would be the third time.
"No, look: what is important to me is to maintain my fitness in a way that will allow me to play the whole year, and competing at a good level.
"You see it's not easy: I couldn't do that, for the whole season, in 2012, 2013."