London | Nadal roars back into contention
The real Rafa Nadal joined the party when he secured a dramatic comeback 6-7 6-3 7-6 victory against Daniil Medvedev to keep his hopes alive of at least a semi-final slot at the Nitto ATP Finals inside the 02 in London.
Honestly, I was super lucky. Sorry for Daniil. It’s a tough loss. He was playing much better than me in the third set. It’s one of these days, one out of 1,000, where you win Rafa Nadal
The world No.1 and 19-time Grand Slam winner disappointed with a lacklustre defeat against defending champions Alexander Zverev in his opening round-robin match two days previously.
It had folk claiming he was rusty and lacked fitness after injury. That, at 33, a first title at the end-of-season might be beyond him.
And when he was 5-1 down in the deciding set against fourth seed Medvedev there were few betting the Spaniard could repeat his recent US Open final victory against the debuting fourth seed.
But Nadal, after saving a match point, roared back and will face Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in the mood as he bids for glory on his record 15th consecutive appearance.
Victory was largely down to his renowned champion’s mentality, his never-say-die attitude.
He said: “In that moment (5-1 down in the final set) you play with not much pressure because, you know, you are almost lost. I played a great point, and then I was able to save that game.
“Even with 5-2 is so difficult to think about comeback against a player like Daniil. And especially in indoor. In clay, still you have more chances because normally you play more points. But here, you are in his hands.
“But at some point, with the 5-3, of course I started to believe, because being only one break away, why not? I need to be there. I need to create the moment and I need to put the pressure. I think I played a good game in the 5-2. I created that pressure on him. And then of course he made couple of mistakes, no? But I think I played a good tiebreak later, too.
“Honestly, I was super lucky. Sorry for Daniil. It’s a tough loss. He was playing much better than me in the third set. It’s one of these days, one out of 1,000, where you win.
“I know from my personal experience how tough it is to close out matches, especially when you have two breaks in front and you lose the first one. I thought I had a chance. I think I was a little bit better in the end. In general terms, I think I was playing much better than two days ago, so that’s a very positive thing for me.”
Medvedev took the first set on a tie-break and Nadal kept his Russian opponent waiting before the start of the second as he took a toilet break.
The fourth seed appeared unamused and his humour was hardly improved when his Spanish opponent broke him straight away and went on to level the match.
But 23-year-old Medvedev got a flying start in the decider, his loose but effective serve proving a potent weapon as he broke Nadal twice for a 4-0 lead.
Stattos reached for the record books: when was the last time Nadal suffered a bagel? We discovered it was only last year in the quarter-final of the US Open against Dominic Thiem. It was a match he went on to win.
But we all knew that if repeated this time it would leave Nadal beaten for a second time in as many matches under the dome. And, even when he finally held, Medvedev made it 5-1.
The fighting spirit Nadal is known for came into play as he hauled himself back into the match. He saved the match point in the seventh game of the set and broke Medvedev in the next.
It seemed the momentum had started to swing back in his favour.
Medvedev appeared distracted and his form dipped as Nadal kept coming. And the Spaniard broke again to level at 5-5.
And when he held to take the lead for the first time in the deciding set, the pressure piled up on his Russian opponent.
But Medvedev rediscovered the rhythm on his serve and hit his 19th and 20th ace to take the set into a tie-break.
Nadal, fidgety and fired up, produced a trademark thumping forehand, as he went for the kill and went on to secure two match points, taking the first of them with Hawkeye needed to confirm a Medvedev return had drifted just wide.