ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Top-ranked Rafael Nadal started 2011 with a win over rival Roger Federer, beating the Swiss 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) Saturday to defend his title at the World Tennis Championships exhibition tournament.
Both players held serve throughout the match, and Federer had the early momentum in the first tiebreaker, hitting a couple of blistering forehand winners to go up 3-0. But Nadal won the next five points and clinched the set when the Swiss hit a forehand long.
In the second tiebreaker, Nadal went up 3-1 with a drop volley and Federer sent his return long on the next point. The Spaniard then set up match point with a crosscourt forehand winner and converted it when Federer hit a forehand long.
``For both of us, these are the first matches of the season. So it is special for us,'' Nadal said. ``This is the perfect place to start the season here in Abu Dhabi.''
Both Federer and Nadal were given byes into the semifinals of the six-player tournament. Federer beat fifth-ranked Robin Soderling on Friday while Nadal ousted Tomas Berdych.
``I never lost my serve, but I still lost the tournament, it's kind of tough,'' Federer said. ``Rafael and myself must have played so many times and so many times it has come down to a few shots here and there. He is an amazing shot-maker. Me as well, but today he got the better of me.''
Last month, the two split charity matches with Nadal winning in Spain and Federer prevailing in Switzerland.
In tournament play, Nadal has a 14-8 record against Federer. The Swiss won their most recent meeting, a three-set victory in the final the ATP World Tour Finals in London.