London: An ailing Rafael Nadal toiled for nearly three hours before beating Mardy Fish 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) at the ATP World Tour Finals on Sunday to win his opening match.
In a tense evening match at London's O2 Arena, Fish recovered from a nervous opening set on his debut at the tournament and saved two match points at 5-4 in the third set. Despite struggling with illness, Nadal was able to clinch it in the tiebreaker.
"I felt very bad from the stomach since the beginning of the third (set)," Nadal said. "I was seriously really lucky for the victory and I, for sure, am very happy."
Group A begins on Monday with Andy Murray facing David Ferrer and top-seeded Novak Djokovic against Tomas Berdych.
By the time Nadal and Fish walked off court on the opening day of the tournament, many of the 17,000-strong crowd had already left to catch the last train home.
"I didn't play a great tiebreaker. He did. That was pretty much the difference," said Fish, who ended the match with 35 winners to Nadal's 18.
Roger Federer - who beat Jo Wilfred Tsonga on Sunday - and Nadal will now face each other on Tuesday for the 26th time in their long rivalry. Fish will play Tsonga.
Fish, who qualified for the eight-player tournament for the first time at the age of 29, arrived in London with concerns about a hamstring injury. Fish said later his preparation "wasn't ideal, but that wasn't the reason that I lost."
Nadal, meanwhile, was back in action after a five-week break. Dressed all in dark gray for the evening match, he made Fish wait while he had his finger taped by the trainer after the warm-up and the American made a nervous start as he dropped serve in the opening game.
Nadal dominated the opening set but Fish found his range on the forehand and combining it with some deft volleys and delicate drop shots, forced the deciding third set.
Nadal began to feel the heat. He dashed off for a bathroom break after taking a 2-0 lead in the third and returned to drop serve as Fish ended the game with a perfectly judged half volley to break back.
Sticking with his attacking game, Fish broke for a 3-2 lead but was immediately broken at love to make it 3-3. But his form dipped in the all-important tiebreaker against Nadal, who planned to return quickly to his hotel and concentrate on resting his body after playing "for one hour suffering a lot."
In Federer, Nadal will face a player on a 13-match winning streak following titles in Basel and Paris, where the No. 4-ranked Swiss beat Tsonga in straight sets in the final a week ago.
Nadal, unusually, was courtside to see the end of the Federer-Tsonga match, joining football stars Thierry Henry and Andrey Arshavin in the crowd.