Rafael Nadal has guaranteed he will finish 2013 on top of the world rankings with a 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6) victory over Stanislas Wawrinka at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Nadal arrived for the prestigious season-ending event knowing two Group A victories at London’s O2 Arena would be enough to ensure he couldn’t be caught by second-placed Novak Djokovic in the race for the number one ranking.
The Spaniard achieved that aim on Wednesday in typically dominant fashion, beating Swiss seventh seed Wawrinka 24 hours after opening the tournament with a straight-sets win over David Ferrer.
It is the third time Nadal has finished a calendar year in pole position in the rankings – and the first since 2010 – and he celebrated with a jubilant jig around the court.
He is the first player to end a year at number one three years after his last season-ending top spot.
The 27-year-old’s straight-sets victory over Wawrinka also booked his place in the semi-finals of the Tour Finals, with one group match against Tomas Berdych still to come.
Nadal’s return to the top is a remarkable achievement given he only came back in February after seven months out with severe knee tendonitis that threatened to cut short his career.
“I had a lot of emotions today, it’s the perfect scenario to be the year-end number one,” Nadal said.
“After missing this tournament last year, it’s been an unbelievable comeback.
“Being number one at the end of the season is something really difficult as there are some unbelievable competitors out there.
“But without my team behind me, it would be hard to think about achieving this, especially after what happened last year.
“Stan played really great. He had chances at the end and I was a bit lucky, but I’m happy to be through to the semi-finals in the last tournament of the year.”
Since his return from injury, Nadal has won the French and US Open titles, as well as eight other tournaments, and a maiden triumph at the Tour Finals would be a fitting end to such a memorable campaign.
Wawrinka has enjoyed the best season of his life, qualifying for the Tour Finals for the first time and winning his career-best 50th match of the year with a three-set victory over world number five Berdych on Monday.
But Nadal had won all 11 of his previous meetings with the 28-year-old, who had never even taken a set off the Spaniard.
Wawrinka played well for long periods here, hitting twice as many winners as Nadal, but he could never deliver the knock-out blow and 45 unforced errors proved his downfall.