Rafael Nadal served notice early then hung on to eliminate defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 Thursday evening at the ATP Finals.
Nadal, who outlasted the Greek a year ago in the round robin, was in full rhythm on serve the first 90 minutes or so of the match. The Spaniard snuck out a break mid-way in the first and continued to stay strong until late in the second when serving 4-5 he blinked and a double fault suddenly leveled the last match of the London Group.
But then the breaks came. Three straight to open the third put Nadal on top. Rafa twice escaped from a 0-30 including when serving for the match. The 2-time finalist took five of the last six games to earn his sixth win in seven tries over Tsitsipas.
“I think I played quite well for such a long time,” Nadal said. “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 a very positive match for me.”
Nadal will have a day off before returning on Saturday to meet Daniil Medvedev. He has never lost to the Russian winning all three of their meetings, though the last two last year at the US Open and the ATP Finals went the distance.
“Be in the semifinals here, in the last tournament of the year, is an important thing,” Nadal said. “Happy for that and I am looking forward to the semifinals against Daniil.”
Tsitsipas ends his season dropping four his last five matches.
“I don’t even know what I was trying to do, honestly,” Tsitsipas said. “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.”
Earlier in the day, Andrey Rublev got his first ATP Finals win besting good friend Dominic Thiem 6-2, 7-5.
“I started really well, since the first point, since the first return,” said Rublev. “Dominic didn’t start that well and I took advantage the beginning. That helped me to have more confidence and helped me to play better and better.
“I wish Dominic the best of luck in the semifinals, he deserves to be where he is and he deserves to win the title.”
Thiem, who had already wrapped up the London Group, will now await the winner of tomorrow’s Novak Djokovic-Alexander Zverev showdown. Djokovic leads 3-2 but Zverev beat the Serb in the 2018 final. It’s their first collision since the 2019 French Open quarterfinals won easily by Djokovic.
“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.”
The round robin concludes with Daniil Medvedev who will try to stay undefeated against Diego Schwartzman who seeks his first win of the week. Medvedev has won his last seven matches and all four against the Argentine.
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