Rafa Nadal’s hopes of adding the Nitto ATP Finals title to his long list of successes is more than fast fading, but literally disappearing, following his second loss at this season’s edition in Turin.
I will use the experience of Toni in these situations. He has been a great help to me. I have a ton of respect for him and his family. It is special to play Rafa with Toni here, but at the same time we are competitors, and we try our best, Felix Auger Aliassime
In his second Green Group match, he was soundly beaten 6-3 6-4 by Auger Aliassime with one match to play against current group leader Casper Ruud who took out Taylor Fritz 6-3 4-6 7-6(6) in the evening session to remain unbeaten.
With his uncle Toni Nadal, sitting in the Canadian’s box as his opponents coach, the loss — a result of a very uncharacteristic tennis display which was full of unforced errors from the Spanish icon — must have been embarrassing for both the Nadals.
While Nadal shook his head throughout the match in his attempts to turn things around, Auger Aliassime’s serving kept him in control much as it has done over the last few months when he collected three titles on the trot to set up a run of 17 wins in 18 matches including his loss to Ruud last Sunday in their opening clash.
“I think having one match here, I got used to the conditions on centre court,” the Canadian said. “It helped me a lot. I felt my game was better today. My serve was great and return and backhand was much better. I was hitting it with my more consistency and quality. When I am playing like this, I have proven I can compete and beat some of the best players in the world.”
Auger-Aliassime, will now face Fritz to settle the second group place with both holding a 1-1 win-loss record for the week.
“I will use the experience of Toni in these situations. He has been a great help to me. I have a ton of respect for him and his family. It is special to play Rafa with Toni here, but at the same time we are competitors, and we try our best,” Auger Aliassime added.
It was only the second time in his career that Nadal has lost four consecutive matches and the questions will now start as to whether the 36-year-old and 22-time grand slam winner will start considering bringing his glittering career to an end which might well hinge on the re-match of the French Open final against Ruud on Thursday.
“Couple of positive things. I was able to play two tournaments in the past three weeks. That’s the positive thing, something that I was not able to do for a while,” Nadal pointed out. “I don’t think I forgot how to play tennis, how to be strong enough mentally. I just need to recover all these positive feelings and all this confidence and all this strong mentality that I need to be at the level that I want to be.
“I don’t know if I (am) going to reach that level again. But what I don’t have any doubt is that I (am) going to die for it!”
Meanwhile Norway’s Ruud has qualified for the semis-finals for the second year in a row after beating the American Fritz in three sets for his 50th win of the season and secure his place at the top of the group.As group winner he will meet the runner-up of the Red Group on Saturday.
With Fritz winning a set it means Nadal is eliminated despite having one more match to play.
Ruud’s victory also means that Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spaniard world number one, remains at the top of the rankings for the year-end to become the youngest ever to finish the season at that high mark.
“Only a couple of points decide a match like this and fortunately they went my way at the end,” Ruud, a finalist in Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows this season, said.
“I was so happy to see that last forehand go long and book my ticket for the semi-finals.”
Again it was his serve which kept him in the match and, despite losing the second set he withstood all the pressure which Fritz applied throughout the third and then taking full control in the tiebreak, streaking into a 5-1 lead before pocketing his second win of the week.
In the first matches of the Red Group, played on Monday, Novak Djokovic started his bid for a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals title with a straight-sets victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Former world No. 1 Djokovic was tested in a tight second set but came through 6-4 7-6(4) in one hour and 40 minutes to secure his ninth straight win over Tsitsipas to end the day top of the Group, ahead of the other group winner of day, Andrey Rublev following his 6-7(7) 6-3 7-6(7) success against his compatriot Daniil Medvedev.
“The first game was very important to break his serve,” said Djokovic in his on-court interview.
“After that with a break it boosts the confidence. We both knew this was going to be a tough and tight match. It was very important to start off well, I did that and held my serve well.”
He certainly looks to be the strong favourite to lift the trophy despite a tricky group featuring two former champions in Tsitsipas and Medvedev.
Djokovic will face Rublev in his next match on Wednesday while Tsitsipas meets Medvedev.
“The final tiebreak, the rallies that we had there were crazy. The last rally, we had I don’t know, 30 shots. I was cramping a bit already, but I was thinking ‘One more, one more’. You have to keep playing. For sure he felt the same, so just keep playing if you have the chance, just go for it’. In the end I was able to win,” said Rublev describing the last moments of his victory.