Rafael Nadal secured the year-end world number one ranking with a 7-5, 6-3 second-round victory over South Korean Hyeon Chung at the Paris Masters yesterday.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion is the oldest man to finish a season at the top of the rankings at the age of 31, after a year that saw him win the French and US Opens.
It is the fourth time the Spaniard has achieved the feat after 2008, 2010 and 2013.
Nadal went into the match knowing victory would give him an unassailable lead as world number one over old rival Roger Federer, after the Swiss legend withdrew before the start of the tournament.
The 21-year-old Chung put up a brave fight at the Bercy Arena, but a fired-up Nadal proved too hot to handle. Nadal will next face Pablo Cuevas in the last 16, after the unseeded Uruguayan edged out Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/1), 6-2. Chung sent out an early warning of his intent with a ripping forehand winner to break Nadal in the third game.
The top seed responded, though, taking the next four games to open up a 5-2 advantage. Nadal was broken when serving for the set as Chung hit back, but the turning point came as the world number one saved a break point in game 11, marked with a trademark fist-pump. Chung’s inexperience showed at the vital moment, as he threw away his serve to hand Nadal the first set after an hour of play. Any thoughts of a quick end to the match were set to one side when Chung staved off four break points early in the second set. The world number 55 has enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2017 and will play at the inaugural Next-Gen Finals in Milan
later this month, but his resistance was finally ended in the French capital as Nadal broke to move within a service hold of victory. And he closed it out with the minimum of fuss to add another piece of history to his illustrious career. Earlier, fourth seed Alexander Zverev was dumped out by Dutchman Robin Haase in a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 second-round defeat.
The 20-year-old German lost his composure after easing through the first set, as his bid for a third Masters title of the season was abruptly ended. It was the world number 43 Haase’s first-ever win over a top-five player.
Home hope Lucas Pouille kept his slim hopes of qualifying for the World Tour Finals alive by seeing off Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4, but US Open runner-up Kevin Anderson’s chances ended with a 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 loss to Fernando Verdasco.
Troubled Tomic offered ‘wellbeing’ support
Troubled Australian Tennis player Bernard Tomic has been offered “health and wellbeing” support as his career hits the rails. Once mooted as a rising star, his ranking has plunged to 145 in the world during a forgettable season in which he admitted he was “bored” and not always giving 100 percent. He is now reliant on being handed a wildcard for his home Grand Slam, the Australian Open, in January, with the troubled star widely seen as at a crossroads.
Australian Open director Craig Tiley said the sport was doing what it could to help him, but admitted he had not responded to their offers.
“We have reached out to Bernie from a health and wellbeing point of view and it’s up to him to respond,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday.
Stephens suffers fresh Asian defeat
Sloane Stephens was pummelled by Anastasija Sevastova at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai yesterday, her third successive defeat since winning the US Open.
The American, seeded third in the tournament, was beaten by the Latvian fifth seed in two straight sets 7-5, 6-3 in one hour and 28 minutes at the Hengqin International tennis Centre. Stephens, 24, was a first-round loser at the Wuhan Open and the China Open in Beijing before pulling out of Hong Kong, but insisted she wasn’t feeling under pressure. French top seed Kristina Mladenovic was also defeated by Slovakia’s number one Magdalena Rybarikova 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (7/5), in a tight match that saw Rybarikova squander six match points before finally sealing her victory.
Twenty-four-year-old Mladenovic, ranked at a career-high number 10, still has a chance to qualify for the semis but Rybarikova was confirmed out late Wednesday given the round robin format.
But her first-match loss in Zhuhai also follows a recent poor run, including an upset by Croatian Jana Fett at the Japan Women’s Open in September, where she was again top seed. Earlier in the season she reached the semi-finals at Indian Wells - a result which saw her break into the world top 20 for the first time, temporarily overtaking Caroline Garcia as French number one. Despite “the tricky journey”, the French number two said she had improved a lot. Separately, the tournament’s youngest player and ninth seed Ashleigh Barty cruised to victory over Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in just one hour and 11 minutes.
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