Doha: Rafael Nadal sent a message to the tennis world with the quality of his performance in reaching only his second final in eight months with a super-quick semi-final victory in the Qatar Open on Friday.
Nadal, who begins the defence of his Australian Open title in nine days time in Melbourne, needed only 67 minutes to win 6-1, 6-3 against Viktor Troicki, the in-form fifth-seeded Serbian - and the beating might easily have been even more one-sided.
Nadal summoned such an inspired spell of fierce aggression, not at all typical of his heavy-topspinning, containment-oriented clay court style, that he took 18 points in a row while swarming all over his unfortunate opponent in the first set.
That launched the Majorcan into a sequence of eleven successive winning games. It carried him to within two points of taking the second set to love, before the determined Troicki rescued a semblance of respectability just at the end.
The victory kept alive Nadal`s hopes of winning his first ATP World Tour title since April last year, when he won on clay in Rome, after which he was blighted by injury, a decline in confidence, and loss of form.
But Nadal was very guarded about the final. "It`s going to be very difficult tomorrow," he said of his meeting with either Roger Federer, the top-seeded Wimbledon and French Open champion, or Nikolay Davydenko, the third-seeded ATP World Tour Masters champion.
"I have to play my best tennis, like this all the time, if I want to have any chance of winning."
Nadal has never been onc to over-state his chances. He may also have been concerned not to get over-excited by the possibility of another glory day at last after such a long wait, and perhaps even mindful of his critics.
Some of these who have even suggested that the best of Nadal is mostly over, though the evidence of this display, admittedly brief, and against opposition a little below the top level, hinted otherwise.
Nadal attacked with far more venom than usual, hitting flatter, and harder, and at least a third of the time from inside the baseline, which he more usually patrols from several feet back.
It brought shorter rallies, intense pressure, and 36 clean winners, most of them struck with great accuracy and perception.
He also served superbly, making a good ratio of service winners even though the stats showed only one ace, and ventured several bold forays to the net, culminating in several delightful angled volley winners.
It suggested that the 23-year-old former world number one is trying to increase his range of stroke-making options in an attempt to reduce the strain on his complaining body over the course of a long season.