Monday November 21st, 2011

*****

LONDON -- It was an exciting day at the O2 Arena. Rafael Nadal overcame a bout of illness to down Mardy Fish 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) on Sunday, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stalled down the stretch to fall to Roger Federer 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 and both doubles duels were decided 11-9 in champions tiebreaks.

Here are some thoughts from Day 1 of the ATP World Tour Finals:

Waiting for Rafa: Whether it's intentional or not, Nadal sure does know how to milk a moment. He made Fish wait after their warmup while he got his fingers taped and then, after breaking the American for a 2-0 lead in the third set, Nadal had an Andrea Petkovic moment and sprinted off court to throw up in the restroom.

Nadal said afterward that he had some seafood pasta at the hotel that made him nauseous for most of the match. Needless to say, it was a less than ideal return for Nadal after a month-long layoff. But Nadal managed to pull out a victory in a near-three-hour match, and seeing the Spaniard cover ground and curl the ball around the court at will was a welcome sight. A less welcome sight? Rafa's subtle new haircut.

Lost in the hype: Fish needed a good 30 minutes to settle himself into his first match at the O2. Unfortunately, that's about how long it took Nadal to secure the first set. Fish looked like a bundle of nerves as he walked out on court and in the first set, burying groundstroke after groundstroke into the middle of the net. It was a completely understandable response for the WTF rookie. Fish's trip here is a defining moment for a player whose career has long been written off as underachieving.

The American eventually got acclimated and played the all-court game that brought him here, taking the second set 6-3 and then steeling himself to get a 3-2 lead in the final set. But he couldn't keep it going in the third-set tiebreak as his return game and groundstrokes left on the first train from the O2 Arena and Nadal cruised 7-3.

"I didn't play a great tiebreaker. He did," Fish said. "That was pretty much the difference."

Here's hoping the nerves stay away from here on out for Fish. Contrary to what you might think, Mardy, you belong here.

Pressure cooker: Tsonga was able to push Federer to three sets and hung with the Swiss while serving from behind for much of the third. And then he blinked. Serving at 4-5 in the third set, Tsonga played a horrible game to get broken at 15 and just like that, it was over. It was a good reminder of just how important it is to serve first in the final set. With all that pressure mounting on Tsonga, he crumbled.

"Once he got the upper hand in the second set, he started to swing more freely and got really dangerous," Federer said. "I just tried to stay calm and wait for my chance."

Federer extended his winning streak to 13 matches and defeated Tsonga for the second time in a week. The world No. 4 will renew his rivalry with Nadal on Tuesday in their second round-robin match.

French diplomacy: A few days after Yannick Noah leveled his baseless accusations of doping in Spanish sports, Frenchmen Michael Llodra and Tsonga each approached Nadal to apologize for his comments. Nadal appreciated the gesture, but didn't hold back when asked to respond to Noah's comments.

"This guy deserve not [to] write anymore in the newspaper," Nadal said. "What he said is completely stupid. The image of the country [France] when one guy, important guy like him, say that, is terrible."

Nadal has every reason to be upset. If you're going to make public accusations of doping, then you better be armed with some facts. Anything less is simply irresponsible. Going the distance: You can't say the ATP doesn't deliver to its fans. Both singles matches went the full three and both double matches -- Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor over Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, and Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski over Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic -- were decided 11-9 in a champions tiebreak. Not that it didn't have ancillary negative effects. With the last train to central London leaving the O2 arena at 11:45 pm, fans were forced to depart before the last match ended.

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