Rafael Nadal recovered to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 7-5 yesterday but faces an anxious wait to find out whether he will play Roger Federer in the last four at the ATP Finals. The Spanish top seed is pinning his hopes on Daniil Medvedev beating defending champion Alexander Zverev in the last night’s late match in Group Andre Agassi in London. Nadal’s efforts will count for nothing unless Medvedev, who now has nothing to play for, beats Zverev.
A win for the German would send Nadal home. “I don’t know if I will see you tomorrow because it depends on the match of this evening but I did all the things that I could today,” said Nadal. “I fought until the end two days ago and today, so if I am able to play in front of you tomorrow against Roger it will be a huge honour. If not, I really hope to see you next year.”
Nadal, who has already secured the year-end number one ranking, has never won the end-of-season tournament and had a miserable start at the O2 Arena, being outplayed by Germany’s Zverev. But the 19-time Grand Slam champion produced an astonishing comeback to defeat Medvedev, the Russian fourth seed, on Wednesday and give himself a chance of qualifying from the round-robin phase. Tsitsipas, 21, had already qualified for the semi-finals before yesterday’s match after beating Medvedev and Zverev. Serve dominated in the first set yesterday, with neither Nadal nor Tsitsipas facing a break point as the match drifted inexorably towards a tie-break.
The Greek sixth seed came out on top, hammering an ace on his first match point to seal the set. The second set followed a similar pattern until the fifth game, when a Tsitsipas double-fault handed Nadal two break points — the first of the match.
The Spaniard could not capitalise but he upped the pressure in Tsitsipas’s next service game and earned another break point, which the Greek again survived. But Nadal earned a fourth break point in Tsitsipas’s next service game and this time the Greek player slapped a regulation forehand wide and Nadal went on to level the match.
A pumped-up Nadal maintained his momentum in the early stages of the deciding set, putting consistent pressure on his opponent’s serve but he failed to convert a clutch of break points. Nadal earned two more break points in the 11th game and this time made it count as Tsitsipas put a backhand wide and he served out to win the match.
After the match Nadal received the trophy for finishing the year as the top-ranked player. “I’m super happy,” he said. “Honestly, after all the things I went through in my career in terms of injuries I never thought at the age of 33-and-a-half I would have this trophy in my hands again. It’s something really, really emotional for me. A lot of work in the shadows to be where we are today.”
Djokovic to reach semis
On Thursday night, Roger Federer produced a near-flawless performance as he avenged his Wimbledon defeat by Novak Djokovic and qualified for the last four with a 6-4, 6-3 victory. The Swiss started the tournament with a chastening straight-sets defeat to Dominic Thiem but found his best form when it mattered.
Defeat for the second seed spells ended his bid to overtake Nadal and finish as year-end number one. Roared on by a raucous packed house at London’s O2 Arena, six-time champion Federer looked in the groove from the start, cranking up the pressure on Djokovic’s serve and dropping just three points on his own serve in the first set.
The Serbian upped his game at the start of the second set but Federer, 38, saved the one break point he faced and broke twice to canter to victory. The third seed, making his 17th appearance at the ATP Finals, is into his 16th semi-final at the year-end event.
Djokovic needed to win the title to have a chance at knocking Nadal off the top spot, but now the Spaniard is guaranteed to finish the year as the top-ranked player for the fifth time, tying him with Federer, Djokovic and American Jimmy Connors.
“Great atmosphere, great opponent,” said Federer, who hit 23 winners and made just five unforced errors. “It was definitely incredibly special. I enjoyed it from the beginning. I played incredible and I knew I had to because that’s what Novak does. It was definitely magical.”
Speaking about what was different from the Wimbledon final, where he squandered two championship points on his own serve, he said: “I won match point I guess. It was so close at Wimbledon. It was a privilege to play that match, so many ups and downs. I couldn’t be more happy right now.”
Federer finishes second in Group Bjorn Borg, behind Thiem, who also beat Djokovic earlier this week. The Swiss will face the Group Andre Agassi winner today.
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