Mubadala World Tennis Championship, Abu Dhabi 2017
by MAC

Not sure whether to say Rafa ended 2016 or started 2017 in style. The Mubadala World Tennis Championship was played from 29 to 31 December 2016 but is really a curtain opener for the 2017 tennis season. Whatever. The important thing is he won for the fourth time.

This time he had to play three matches to get the title.

His first was against Tomas Berdych.

We weren't sure what to expect from Rafa after his long absence from the tour so we were totally delighted when he came out really strong. He had no trouble in dispatching Berdych, 6-0, 6-4.

"I created a lot of damage with my forehands. That has been one of my main goals in these past couple of seasons – to rediscover my forehand. When I am hitting my forehands, I feel in control of the points.

"I think in the first set, it was fantastic.  Every shot with my forehand, I created something. I was able to open the court, then change to the forehand down the line. That’s the way I need to play if I want to have success.

"I think it was a great match overall. I went to the net a few times and I didn’t miss much with my backhand. It’s great news because when I am losing my serve a lot of times, I come to press conferences and you guys ask me about the serve not working.

"Most times, it is not the serve. It’s the game from the baseline when I am losing a lot of my serves. It’s about the shots from the baseline."

This put him through to face current world number 3, Milos Raonic.

This turned out to be a much tougher encounter after a relatively easy first set. Neither player was treating this like the exhibition match it was supposed to be. Rafa eventually prevailed, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

"It is always great to start the match like that. Against Berdych, it was a really impressive first set and a really impressive match overall. Today, it was a good match again not as good as yesterday, but still it was a very match for me.

"I had a good chance in the second set to break at 15-40, but then I lost a bit of the intensity and he played good from the baseline. He started to serve huge, a lot of percentage of first serves and second, and it was tough for me.

"In the third, I started serving a bit better again and playing a little bit more aggressive. It was a great victory against the No 3 player of the world."

To win the championship he had to play David Goffin for the first time. Goffin had also played two matches to get here, beating Andy Murray in his semi final. Despite a spirited attempt by Goffin to cause another upset, Rafa was not prepared to give up his title and fought well to get the win, 6-4, 7-6(5).

"Today was a lot tougher with the shadows on court. But when the shadows went, we played high-quality tennis.

"I am very happy to have had the experience in Abu Dhabi again. I had three very positive matches.

"When I feel comfortable in one place and like the conditions and have won before, its easier to win again. I have had very positive feelings here for many years."

To his fans he said,

"I just wish all of them a Happy New Year and a healthy year with lots of happiness.

"The only thing I can tell them is I worked a lot to try to put myself in a position to be competitive again, to enjoy again my tennis and I am going to try and make that that happen."

Happy New Year to you, too, Rafa