Andrey Rublev made it third time lucky at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship after winning the title on Saturday night with a straight sets victory over former world No 1 Andy Murray.
Rublev, the world No 5, recorded a 6-4, 7-6 victory to win the Abu Dhabi event on his third appearance and provide a satisfying conclusion to a year that had already seen the Russian surge to a career-high ranking, win Olympic gold, and clinch his first Davis Cup title.
Rublev seized the initiative when he broke Murray in the fifth game and he stayed behind his powerful serve to close out the opener without facing any break points.
When the Russian broke in the first game of the second set and held serve to lead 2-0, a swift evening's work appeared in store. However, Murray kept himself in the contest by breaking back to level at 4-4 and with both players holding firm on serve, the second set went to the tie-break.
Having dragged himself back into the match, Murray handed the advantage back to Rublev, who raced into a 4-0 lead and the 24-year-old never loosened his grip, taking the tie-break 7-2 to wrap up the victory.
"This is my third time here and I always enjoy coming here," Rublev said. "Always top quality matches against top players and it's a good life here - enjoying the hotel, sitting by the pool!
"These are the kind of matches we are looking to ahead of the new season," the Russian added. "That is why we are here and that is the best thing we can do [at this stage of pre-season]."
Although defeated in the final, it was a solid tournament for Murray who won two matches, against fellow Briton Dan Evans and Spanish star Rafael Nadal, before the narrow defeat to Rublev.
The former world No 1, currently ranked 134th, is continuing to make his way back from a career-threatening hip injury, and with the Australian Open less than a month away, the three-time Grand Slam champion should be encouraged by his form.
Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, completed his comeback from a lengthy injury layoff by participating in the third-place playoff against Canadian world No 14 Denis Shapovalov.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion was defeated in a third set champions tie break 6-7, 6-3, 10-6 after a high-intensity and entertaining match in only his second match in six months having ended his 2021 season in August with a foot injury that had been troubling him for more than a year.
Given the very early stages of his recovery, Nadal admitted that he is yet to make a concrete decision on his plans for the Australian Open, although the 35-year-old Spaniard is determined to do what it takes to play.
"I need to speak with my team," Nadal said. "I can't guarantee 100 per cent. The plan is to go there and try my best in Australia, but I need to go back and see how the body feels after these couple of days. I have some time to make this decision but let’s see. I will take it day by day. In this moment of my career and everything I went through, I need to think a lot about every movement."
Despite the defeats in Abu Dhabi, Nadal insisted that playing at MWTC was a positive experience and has given him a good indication of the current state of his game and the work he still has ahead.
"Even when not in perfect condition, I was able to show a competitive level against good players," the 20-time Grand Slam champion sad. "There are many remaining things left to improve in matches but I still had my chances. So taken in that perspective it’s a very positive thing.
"But I need time. It’s been a long time. People think I last played in Washington, but I played those matches in Washington in very bad condition. After Roland Garros it was a disaster. My foot would not allow me to even practice or play the right way. It’s been six months since my last real, official match. The main thing is to be healthy enough to do the things I need to do."