The Spaniard, who has risen from ninth at the start of the year via French and US Open victories, advanced 7-5 6-3 in the Paris Rolex Masters in one hour and 48 minutes.
“It was impossible for me to think about when you are coming back from a tough time, without playing tennis and with so many injuries,” he said.
A shade over 12 months ago, Nadal announced a premature end to a season which had been seriously hindered by a wrist injury. It was time to turn his attention to 2017, where in his words: “I need to create pain for my opponent.”
He has done plenty of that. His second-round victory in Paris was his 66th of a season in which he has so far won six titles and contested three of the four Grand Slam finals.
His trademark forehand has been far more menacing than in recent years, but his backhand has also been very solid and his serve – especially the second serve – much improved.
Nadal’s biggest frustration has been Roger Federer. He has simply not been able to find a solution to the puzzle presented by the 36-year-old in 2017. Their four matches have all gone Federer’s way, but there may be a fifth to close the season at this month’s World Tour Finals.
The indoor hard courts there favour Federer, but there is every incentive for Nadal as it is the one major title which has so far eluded him.
Murray, along with three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka and former world number one Novak Djokovic, will miss the World Tour Finals through injury, but the two remaining spots in the event’s eight-strong field are close to being filled.