Abu Dhabi - Rafael Nadal got his year off to a winning start when he defeated Robin Soderling 7-6 (7/3), 7-5 in the final of the Capitala World Tennis Championship exhibition tournament on Saturday.
Soderling had beaten Nadal in their two previous ATP Tour meetings, ending the Spaniard's reign in the French Open and then dumping him in the World Tour finals and he was the more aggressive of the two in the opening set.
But it was Nadal who had the first two break points of the final at 5-5 only for the big Swede to pull through thanks to some big first serves.
Nadal then also saved two set points from 15-40 down in the following game before forcing the tie-break which he comfortably won 7/3 on the back of some typically stunning defensive work.
Soderling needed to save another break point to avoid going 1-3 down in the second before levelling at 2-2.
But two games later he handed Nadal two more break points with a weak volley at the net and the former world No.1 banked the second of these when the Swede hit wide.
The door was wide open for Nadal, but Soderling belied the tournament's exhibition status by digging deep to break back in the following game before levelling at 4-4.
The Swede then saved three match points two games later with an angled volley to get to 5-5, but Nadal was by now well on top and he finished off the tiring Swede at 7-5.
Nadal next heads to nearby Doha where he will open the ATP regular season as second seed to Roger Federer, while Soderling travels to Chennai in India where he will be the top seed.