The prospect of Rafa Nadal facing Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s ATP Cup final has been realised much to the delight of the organisers and the spectators, despite the home supporters being disappointed at seeing their Team Australia challenge brought to an end by the Spaniards.
He had a lot of energy; he plays with a lot of passion, sometimes a little too much Rafa Nadal
Who wouldn’t be delighted at having the chance of seeing the two top players in the world facing each other, especially with the first grand slam of the season just a week away?
But while the Spaniards cleared the test posed by the Australians with relative comfort, Nadal’s win – as Djokovic’s in the first semi-final – came after a hard fought fight with a determined opponent keen to level the score line and force the tie into a deciding doubles.
It fell to the 20-year-old Alex de Minaur to try and overcome the world number one, and level the tie following Nick Kyrgios’ 6-1 6-4 loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in the opening rubber, and he succeeded in keeping the Spanish icon on court for two hours and 21-minutes before he also eventually went down, 4-6 7-5 6-1.
The youngster certainly made Nadal sit up when he broke him in opening game for a quick 2-0 lead. It was a perfect start and he matched Nadal throughout the first set with some incredible strokes, holding his nerve to serve it out.
It was the first set that de Minaur had won off Nadal and he fought hard throughout the second to complete a possible upset as both players hung on to their respective serves through the second until Nadal grasped the first opportunity offered to take it and level the rubber in the 12th game.
With that the 19-time grand slam champion kick started his run for the finish line to take the first three games of the decider and establish control over proceedings.
De Minaur continued to fight and claimed a service break back in the fifth game but it proved in vain as Nadal hit back in the next and then served out.
While most of the attention was focused on the Nadal – de Minaur rubber, the unassuming Bautista Agut humbled Kyrgios with his tactics, keeping the ball in play and frustrating the temperamental Aussie who eventually allowed the pressure to get to him s evidenced when he smashed his racket following another lost point.
He was outplayed in the first set and while he recovered some of his focus in the second but was broken in the fifth when he destroyed his racket and, despite saving two match points with booming aces, slumped to agonising defeat.
“My game plan was to put him under pressure to play every point, to make him work. That’s what I tried and it went well,” explained Bautista Agut following his win.
While his team-mate went in with a plan, Nadal had to solve a problem on court.
“You need to have the mind open and clear to find solutions, and I was not able to win many points on the return during all the second set,” Nadal revealed. “I needed to change something, and that’s what I did.
“I think I advanced my position around one metre, one metre and a half on the return, on the deuce [side] especially, and I take the first point.
“And then the game change, because then the pressure is on the other side of the court.
“I just tried to change a little bit the dynamic, tried to change a little bit the energy of the match in that moment and tried to make the opponent feel something different that it’s not going the same way that it had been going for the last 30 minutes.”
He added: “He had a lot of energy; he plays with a lot of passion, sometimes a little too much.”
He brushed aside questions about ang game plans for Sunday’s final. “No idea yet,” he replied. “I’m just happy for now, tonight, to be where we are.”
The doubles also went the way of Spain with Feliciano Lopez and Pablo Carreno Busta defeating John Peers and Chris Guccioni 6-2 6-7(6) 10-4.