Rafa Nadal has got himself back on track to achieve his goal of winning the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time by eliminating the defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4 4-6 6-2 and reach the semi-finals of the prestigious end-of-season event being played out at The O2 for the last time.
Be in the semi-finals here, in the last tournament of the year, is an important thing, Happy for that and I am looking forward to the semi-finals against Daniil. Rafa Nadal
Nadal was quick to stamp his authority on his Greek opponent in the last match of the ‘London 2020’ group surviving a brief blip which saw him lose the second set when he briefly lost his focus.
The Spaniard, who also defeated the Greek star 12-months ago during the round-robin stages, settled quickly and for a set-and-a-half kept Tsitsipas on the defensive who, despite all his attempts to be aggressive, dropped his serve mid-way through the opening set.
The defending champion did finally gain an advantage in the ninth game of the second when Nadal delivered a double fault to concede the set for Tsitsipas to level the match.
With that Tsitsipas looked set to give Nadal a rougher ride as he battled to stay in contention and go on and defend his title.
However, three consecutive breaks in the opening moments of the decider left Nadal holding the advantage.
Tsitsipas did press hard during the remainder of the match, twice getting 0-30 ahead on Nadal serves only for the Mallorcan to repel him, even when he served for the match.
Nada’s serving was exceptional. He not only equalled Tsitsipas with 8 aces but won 81% and 61% of his first and second serves respectively to earn his sixth victory over the Greek in seven meetings.
“I think I played quite well for such a long time,” Nadal commented later. “That game at 5-4 in the second affected a little bit. I lost the second and then I was able to have the break in third earlier, but then he broke me back.
“I thought I was winning my serves quite comfortably until that moment. After that, everything changed a little bit. I think I started to serve a little bit worse but, in general terms, it [was] a very positive match for me.”
Nadal will now have a day off before returning on Saturday to meet Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals, a player he has beaten in all their three previous meetings albeit the last two have been close encounters.
“Be in the semi-finals here, in the last tournament of the year, is an important thing,” Nadal added as he looked ahead. “Happy for that and I am looking forward to the semi-finals against Daniil.”
Last year he also won two matches out of three and just failed to make the last four by a very narrow margin of sets won.
“I still won two matches like last year,” Nadal said. “Last year I was a bit unlucky not to be in the semi-final and the year before I had to pull out.”
For Tsitsipas massive disappointment at failing to defend his title.
“I don’t even know what I was trying to do, honestly,” he said reflecting back on his loss. “Trying to be way, way too aggressive. I was giving him free points without really, you know, himself doing much or hurting me from the back.
“I should have handled it a little bit more clever and patiently, but it didn’t happen. My serve was not there when I needed it, and these guys, you just have to be there. I wasn’t fully present. I wasn’t playing in the moment. Quite disappointed with that. But that’s life.”
In the dead group match played earlier in the day, Andrey Rublev beat Dominic Thiem 6-2 7-5 to score his only victory in his debut year at ATP Finals.
Thiem, who had already qualified for the semi-final stage, was probably not as concentrated as he could have been but despite that possibility, he did recover some focus to give the Russian a bit of a contest in the second set.
“I started really well, since the first point, since the first return,” Rublev said. “Dominic didn’t start that well and I took advantage. That helped me to have more confidence and helped me to play better and better. I think Dominic already focused for the semi-final.
“I wish Dominic the best of luck in the semi-finals, he deserves to be where he is and he deserves to win the title.”
The defeat cost the US Open champion 200 ranking points and £115,000 for not winning all three group games.
Thiem will discover who he will face on Friday when the result of the Novak Djokovic versus Alexander Zverev group match is known.
“Both of them are great, both are former champions of this tournament,” Thiem said. “It doesn’t matter for me, the goal for me is to find that great intensity tomorrow in practice, and then try to be 100% on Saturday, whoever I face.”