SHANGHAI, Nov 11 (Reuters) Spain's Rafael Nadal charged back from a set down to beat Frenchman Richard Gasquet 3-6 6-3 6-4 in the opening match of the Tennis Masters Cup today.
The French Open champion recovered from a sluggish start, winning his round-robin opener in a shade over two hours at the prestigious season-ending tournament in Shanghai.
David Ferrer made it a perfect day for Spain with an impressive 6-4 6-4 victory over Serbia's Novak Djokovic in the second Gold Group match.
Gasquet, who had lost all three of his previous matches against Nadal, took the first set after securing a break at 4-3 with a forehand rocket down the line.
Nadal came to life in the second, the world number two breaking Gasquet to love for a 4-2 lead and levelling the match with a fierce serve to his opponent's body.
Gasquet battled gamely to stem the tide but a pumped-up Nadal broke through at the same point in the decider and clinched victory with a textbook backhand volley.
''I finished much better than I started,'' Nadal told reporters. ''I finished the match playing more aggressive, going to the net more, serve-and-volley sometimes.'' GETTING CLOSER The world's best clay court player pushed Federer to the limit in this year's Wimbledon final but believes he is still some way from catching the Swiss at the top of the rankings.
''This year I was closer to him,'' said the 21-year-old left-hander. ''But 'close' is 995 points. The Wimbledon final was a very important match but that's a lot of points.'' Ferrer produced the first surprise of the eight-man tournament, avenging his defeat by Djokovic in the U.S. Open semi-finals in September with a clinical display.
World number three Djokovic was strangely out of sorts, committing 41 unforced errors, a brief flurry of winners in the final game proving too little, too late.
''I think maybe he was a bit nervous,'' said Ferrer. ''I'm playing with confidence. Mentally I am very confident and I'm in great shape physically at the end of the season.'' Federer, drawn in the Red Group, begins his bid for a fourth Masters Cup title in five years tomorrow.
REUTERS AB RN1806