Abu Dhabi, 2 January 2011 | AP

World tennis No.1 Rafael Nadal started his Australian Open preparation with a win over his main rival, beating Roger Federer 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-3) on Saturday for his second victory in the Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament in two years.

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.

Both were given byes into the semifinals of the six-player exhibition 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 one 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.