Rafael Nadal overcame defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas to join Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals and keep alive his hopes of winning the season-ending tournament for the first time.
Nadal ended Tsitsipas’ hopes of retaining his title with a 6-4 4-6 6-2 victory to reach the final four of the tournament for the first time since 2015.
As Group London runner-up behind Thiem, he will face Daniil Medvedev for a place in the final with the Russian assured of top spot in the Tokyo Group after victories over Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic.
Nadal served superbly up until an untimely double fault saw Tsitsipas pinch the second set, but the world No 2 responded well to reach the knockout stages for the sixth time in 10 appearances.
“I think I played quite well for such a long time. A bad game in 5-4 of the second affected it a little bit. I was winning my serve quite comfortable 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 has been a very positive match for me. To be in the semi-finals here in the last tournament of the year is an important thing. I’m happy for that and I’m looking forward to that semi-final against Daniil.”
Rafael Nadal speaking during his on-court interview
Tsitsipas’ record against Nadal now stands at 1-6, with his only victory coming, somewhat unexpectedly, on clay in Madrid last spring.
Nadal failed to capitalise on two break points at 3-3, but Tsitsipas double-faulted on another opening two games later.
Nadal finished off the set with successive aces and, considering he was on a 70-match winning streak when taking the first set, it was clear what an uphill task this was for Tsitsipas.
The 22-year-old did a much better job of dominating on his own serve in the second set but got nowhere near Nadal’s until the Spaniard served to stay in the set at 4-5.
Some inspired play from Tsitsipas created two set points and, having played a fine point to save the first, Nadal double-faulted on the second.
Tsitsipas’ momentum did not last long, though, Nadal getting the better of three successive breaks to start the deciding set and pulling away to clinch victory.
🎾 Winners: 32
🎾 Errors: 13
Outrageous tennis tonight from @RafaelNadal! #NittoATPFinals
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Andrey Rublev signed off with his first victory at the event in his dead-rubber clash with Dominic Thiem.
Debutant Rublev was already eliminated after two losses while Thiem’s brilliant victory over Rafael Nadal on Tuesday guaranteed him top spot in the group.
It was perhaps no surprise that Thiem experienced a comedown while Rublev, who missed a match point in his loss to Tsitsipas, hit top form to win 6-2 7-5.
The Russian, who won a tour-leading five ATP titles this year, seized on a slow start from Thiem to move 4-0 ahead and, although the US Open champion recovered from a break down early in the second set, Rublev broke again and served out victory.
While the result was immaterial in terms of the future of the tournament, it still earned Rublev 200 ranking points and 153,000 US dollars (approximately £114,000) in prize money.
“Obviously I wanted to win the match 100 per cent but the first two matches were pretty tough, pretty long. So, of course, with the fact that I was already qualified in the back of my mind, it was maybe difficult today to keep that intensity alive.”
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Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram reached the semi-finals of the doubles with a tense victory over French Open champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies.
It was a winner-takes-all clash and that showed, with nerves on display from all the players, but in the end it was Britain’s Salisbury and American Ram who triumphed 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 10-4.
The victory means Salisbury has made the last four at London’s O2 for the first time, while the Australian Open champions’ hopes of finishing the season as the world’s No 1 doubles pair are very much alive.
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Meanwhile, Jamie Murray is to reunite with his former doubles partner Bruno Soares next season.
The pair split last spring, with Murray choosing to switch to fellow British player Neal Skupski, but he will be back with Brazilian Soares for 2021.
Murray won both his men’s doubles Grand Slam titles with Soares, the pair collecting the Australian Open and US Open trophies in 2016, while they qualified for the ATP Finals for three straight years.
Murray has failed to hit the same heights with Skupski, although they did reach the semi-finals of the US Open last year and were agonisingly close to qualifying for the O2 this time around.
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