Rafael Nadal returned to tournament play for the first time since his US Open title, but it didn’t go so well. In his opening match at the ATP Finals today in London, Nadal suffered his first career loss to Alexander Zverev 6-2, 6-4.
Nadal showed no signs of an ab injury which forced him out of Paris two weeks ago, but he didn’t have the sizzle on his fearsome forehand which misfired more than it connected. Instead, it was Zverev who was pounding forehands and was largely untroubled on serve cruising to an easy win, his first in six tries over the Spaniard.
“This means so much, playing here again after winning my biggest title so far in my career here last year. This means everything to me,” the defending champion Zverev said.
“I was looking forward to this match, and thanks a lot for all the support, everybody who came out… The atmosphere is the reason why everybody is trying, the goal of the beginning of the season is to make London. Because playing here, playing in front of you all, playing in The O2 is something that we don’t have during the year, and this is so special.”
Zverev has now beaten Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and now Nadal in his last three matches at the event. Today he hit 14 forehand winners to Nadal’s 3.
“The whole thing was about the serve,” Zverev said. “Obviously when I play this aggressive tennis, when I play this way, I have now beaten all three guys on this court, Big 3, so it shows that I can play very well and beat the top players.”
The loss also further opens the door for Djokovic to reclaim the No. 1 ranking back from Nadal. But at least he’s healthy.
“I did not feel pain in the abdominal at all,” Nadal said. “We can find reasons or excuses, but at the end of the day, what all really matters is I need to play much better in two days after tomorrow.”
Nadal now gets Daniil Medvedev Wednesday night.
In the early match, Stefanos Tsitsipas also reversed a 0-5 deficit to Medvedev beating the Russian 7-6(5), 6-4 in a near-flawless performance from the Greek.
”It’s one of the most important victories in my career so far. I gave myself a big boost today, kept believing, kept fighting. It’s such a relief,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s not easy coming in knowing you’ve lost five times before, but I made a deal with myself that I’ll keep trying until I get it. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10, 20 times.
”This victory means a lot to me and this crowd means a lot to me. So much love, so much support, Greek flags everywhere. It almost feels like I’m playing in Athens.”
On Tuesday, Djokovic returns to take on Dominic Thiem in a battle of Sunday winners. Thiem beat the Serb in the French semifinals.
“We know how good of a player he is on clay. He’s been proving that he can play equally well on other surfaces,” Djokovic said. “He’s already established Top 5, Top 10 player. We don’t need to talk about his qualities. Quality is great. His dedication and professionalism and hard work ethics is fantastic, and he’s a really nice guy. So all positive things about him.”
The Djokovic-Thiem winner could clinch a semifinal berth for Saturday.
And then Federer will try to stay in the semifinal hunt against Italian underdog Matteo Berrettini. After losing in straights to Thiem on Sunday, Federer will need a big win over Berrettini and then with Djokovic ahead, might need help from Berrettini against Thiem.
“It’s a normal tournament from here on forward. Not allowed to lose anymore,” Federer said. “That’s how it is every week of the year for the past 20 years, so from that standpoint there is nothing new there.
“Matteo, with his serve, with what he can do, obviously any opponent is dangerous here. He didn’t obviously have the best match against Novak. It’s probably also the toughest way to start off the Finals, playing Novak on the indoors, because he rarely has hiccups as well early on in tournaments,” Federer added. “But, yeah, I’ve got to recover, I’ve got to make sure I play better than today, and hopefully I can win that match.”
Federer is a perfect 16-0 in second matches at the event.
TUESDAY ATP FINALS LONDON SCHEDULE
Centre Court Starts At 12:00 Noon
RR 4 Rajeev Ram-Joe Salisbury v 8 Ivan Dodig-Filip Polasek
Not Before 2:00 Pm
RR 3 Roger Federer v 8 Matteo Berrettini
Not Before 6:00 Pm
RR 2 Lukasz Kubot-Marcelo Melo v 5 Raven Klaasen-Michael Venus
Not Before 8:00 Pm
RR 2 Novak Djokovic v 5 Dominic Thiem
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