SHANGHAI, China (AP) _ James Blake showed the world's elite tennis players how to beat Rafael Nadal.
The No. 8-ranked Blake, the last player to qualify for the Tennis Masters Cup, beat No. 2 Nadal 6-4, 7-6 (0) Monday in his first appearance at the season-ending tournament.
Blake extended his unbeaten streak in ATP events against Nadal to three matches, remaining the only player in the elite eight-man field with a winning record over the 20-year-old Spaniard.
And he did it tough, coming back from 0-4 in the second set and then breaking when Nadal was serving at 5-4.
``I'm the guy that's supposed to be the easy match in this tournament,'' Blake said, ``which doesn't help my confidence much.''
Yet it was his confidence to keep going for some high-risk, low-percentage options on the big points that was key.
``You don't beat him by playing conservatively,'' said Blake, who worked Nadal around the baseline and pounded winners on his forehand and backhand sides.
Asked his secret against Nadal, who beat No. 1 Roger Federer in a final for four of five titles this year, Blake was hardly forthcoming.
``I don't have any specific advice for any other players how to beat Nadal,'' he said. ``People have been saying how big I was hitting the ball, but when you think about it, you really have to go for your shots.
``He's so fast and plays defense so well that it's tough.''
Blake said the indoor-hardcourt surface also suited him more than it did Nadal, who is unparalleled on clay courts.
``I've been lucky enough to play him all three times on hard courts, which is definitely my favor more so than if I were to play him at the French Open,'' Blake said. ``I got a lot of confidence from beating him the first time, and then I've carried that over to these last two times.''
After coming back from a break down to win the first set, Blake won only four points in the opening four games of the second before rallying to tie it at 4-4.
Nadal, returning from a stomach injury that forced him out of the recent Paris Masters, responded with another break of serve.
He was leading 5-4 and 30-15 when he had a double-fault, giving Blake another opening. Blake seized on the chance, winning the next seven points for a 6-5 lead.
Nadal forced a tiebreaker by holding in the next game, but did not score another point. He had a double-fault to give Blake six match points.
The 26-year-old American only needed one, clinching the match with a forehand winner down the line.
Nadal said he was not far from his best during the match, but did not play many of the big points with conviction.
``James played very good points, very aggressive some points in the decisive moments, important moments,'' said Nadal, taking the blame for letting the pressure off Blake.
``But, if you are winning two breaks up and 5-4, for third time and serving for the second set, you cannot lose the set, no?
Blake qualified for the season-ending event after compiling his best season _ 56-23 with five titles _ and finishing in the Top 10 for the first time.
French Open champion Nadal was also making his first appearance and was 57-10 for the season heading into the Masters Cup. He qualified for the 2005 tournament but withdrew because of an injured left foot.
In the other Gold Group match, No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko was scheduled to play Tommy Robredo.
Before Monday's match, Federer was presented with the Champions Race trophy for finishing the year at No. 1 for a third straight season.
Federer, who won three Grand Slam singles titles this season, opened his quest for a third Masters Cup title on Sunday with a win over defending champion David Nalbandian.
``Another fantastic year is almost over _ I have one more week to go,'' he said. ``I'm happy to be back after last year, when I had all the trouble with my foot.''
Federer lost the final here last year after returning from an extended injury layoff.
In doubles matches Monday, second-seeded Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi beat Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, and third-seeded Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor beat Fabrice Santoro and Nenad Zimonjic.