Rafael Nadal will be desperate to make a big statement on Sunday as he heads into the ATP World Tour Finals off the back of injury woes.
The Spaniard was a serious doubt to compete in London but will line up on one side of the net as he looks to end a remarkable season on a high.
Ready to take advantage of the 16-time Grand Slam champion’s fitness concerns is Belgium’s David Goffin, who qualified for the event at the O2 for the first time after a late surge.
But can Nadal ease fears over his health and get off to a winning start? Here we take a look at the match up…
How have they got on in 2017?
For Nadal, it’s been a remarkable season.
The Spaniard won a 10th French Open title, a third US Open and became the oldest man to end a season as world No. 1.
His clay-court performances were nothing short of outstanding, with the 31-year-old winning titles in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Madrid and Paris.
Nadal and Goffin 2017 titles
Goffin was in great form at the start of the season, despite not winning a title, but suffered a freak injury at the French Open to put his hopes of reaching the ATP Finals in doubt.
Back-to-back titles in Shenzhen and Tokyo saw him move to a career-high ranking of world No. 8 and secure his spot in London.
What’s happened to Nadal?
The world No. 1 suffered a knee injury ahead of the Shanghai Masters final against Roger Federer, which subsequently forced him to skip Basel and ultimately withdraw from the Paris Masters.
He cast doubts over whether he would be fit enough to participate, but after collecting his world No. 1 trophy on Sunday and signing off his speech with ‘see you on court on Monday’, the Spaniard seems set to participate.
How did Rafa look when practising?
Watching Nadal (in white) practise. Moving ok but missing a lot of balls and getting quite frustrated at times… Perhaps a bit rusty due to lack of practise! pic.twitter.com/DX9YfQLUPH
— George Bellshaw (@BellshawGeorge) November 12, 2017
His movement was ok but it was an error-filled session for the top seed, who struggled to hide his frustration.
Nadal admitted he had reduced the amounts he was practising in the days leading up to the ATP Finals, but he will hope to have shaken off the cobwebs today.
What’s his record like against Goffin?
Nadal is yet to lose to the world No. 8, but their only two previous meetings have been on clay.
The Belgian pushed Nadal hard in their most recent clash at the Madrid Masters but the world No. 1 is certainly a formidable opponent on his favoured surface.
Nadal, however, is yet to win this tournament – having been a runner-up to Roger Federer in 2010 and Novak Djokovic in 2013 – and Goffin will fancy his chances more than on clay, despite it only being his first full appearance in London.
What have they both said?
Goffin: It’s the toughest opponent to start this campaign here at the ATP Finals. It’s not going to be easy, of course. We’ve played some good matches – on clay in Madrid for example was a good match that Rafa won and we’ll try and play another good match here.
I’m sure I can play some good tennis against him. I’ll try and play some good rallies, be aggressive and make him run a lot. We’ll see, I have nothing to lose. It will be a good match.
Nadal: It’s amazing that’ he’s top 8. After what happened to him at Roland Garros, it would be very unfair if he wasn’t here. He’s a great player.
I’m glad to see him recovered and playing well. Hopefully he doesn’t play that well on Monday.
Under normal circumstances, Nadal would be the obvious choice to win this one – despite being away from his favoured clay.
However, the Spaniard’s injury-dominated build-up will give Goffin genuine belief he can secure a first victory over the world No. 1.
It’s hard to really know the extent of Nadal’s issues until he gets on court, but for now, we’ll stick to backing him.
Prediction: Nadal in 2