Nadal ousts defending champion Tsitsipas to reach semis in London

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Rafael Nadal is through to the last four at the Nitto ATP Finals after holding off Stefanos Tsitsipas in three sets on Thursday. Nadal will go up against Daniil Medvedev on Saturday.

Nitto ATP Finals, Group London 2020

Nadal d. Tsitsipas 6-4, 4-6, 6-2

  • Key info: Nadal is into the semi-finals of this event for the first time in five years.
  • You will also learn: Nadal is now 71-0 in his last 71 matches when he wins the first set.
  • Why you should read this story: It was a roller-coaster contest with great moments but also lots of nerves.

In a winner-takes-all round-robin battle at the Nitto ATP Finals Rafael Nadal booked his spot in the semis with a three-set win over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday night. The 20-time Grand Slam champion struck eight aces, won 81 percent of his first-serve points, and prevailed in two hours and four minutes to set up a semi-final showdown with Daniil Medvedev on Saturday.

“I think I played quite well for such a long time,” he assessed. “That game at 5-4 in the second affected (me) a little bit. I think I was winning my serves quite comfortably before that. But in general terms it was a very positive match for me.”

Tsitsipas also lost to Nadal last year in round-robin competition but went on to win the entire tournament. That won’t happen again in 2020, as Nadal is joined by Group London winner Dominic Thiem in the last four. The 34-year-old will face Group Tokyo winner Medvedev, while Thiem awaits either Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev, who meet on Friday.

Nadal off to fast start

Following a trio of routine service holds for each man, the first pressure-packed moment came with Tsitsipas toeing the line at 3-3, 15-40. The Greek saved both of those break points — one when Nadal erred on a routine second-serve return — and ended up holding for 4-3. However, the Spaniard continued to apply pressure and he earned another break chance in his next return game. This time Tsitsipas cracked, double-faulting at 4-4, 30-40. Nadal promptly wrapped up the set with another hold, punctuating it with two consecutive aces.

Tsitsipas hits back

Nadal had a chance to take complete control in the first game of set two, but Tsitsipas saved a break point with a brilliant cross-court backhand. Meanwhile, the world No 2 won his first 11 service points in the second set and held easily en route to 4-5. From out of nowhere, Tsitsipas suddenly broke serve in the 10th game to force a decider. It ended just as Nadal had broken serve in the opening set — with a costly double-fault.

Nadal wins roller-coaster ride

Success for Tsitsipas was short-lived, though. A surprising and somewhat bizarre sequence of events continued into the third set, as what had been an extremely high-quality encounter saw another hiccup. The 22-year-old played a terrible service game to begin the decider, broke right back for 1-1, then threw in another loose effort on serve to be broken again. This time there would be no recovery for Tsitsipas, as Nadal eventually went ahead by a double-break. The Spaniard survived a deuce game at 5-2 before converting his second match point with a perfect down-the-line backhand.

“I played very hard in the second set and played with the right intentions, which gave me lots of opportunities,” Tsitsipas commented. “Quite disappointed with the third one. It didn’t go as planned. I was rushing. I don’t even know what I was trying to do, honestly — trying to be way, way too aggressive. I was giving him free points without him 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 (against) 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.”

Nadal advances to what will be a rematch of last year’s round-robin contest against Medvedev. Twelve months ago, the Spaniard erased a 5-1 deficit in the third set and saved a match point to win 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-6(4). Neither player qualified for the semi-finals.

“I think it was a good level of tennis for most of the time, but is true that the end I was lucky and he made a couple of mistakes to close the match,” Nadal reflected. “But, yeah, I know it’s a different story (this year). He’s playing great. I think last year he was very tired mentally at the end of the season. I think this year is a different story. He has plenty of confidence.”

Here are the completed Group London standings: 

Player | Record | Sets | Games 

Thiem | 2-1 | 4-3 | 38-40 (qualified for semis)
Nadal | 2-1 | 4-3 | 40-33 (qualified for semis)
Tsitsipas | 1-2 | 4-5 | 44-46 (eliminated)
Rublev | 1-2 | 3-4 | 33-36 (eliminated)

Nitto ATP Finals competition format

  • Each players plays every other player in their group once.
  • The top player in Group Tokyo 1970 will play the runner-up from Group London 2020 in the semi-final, and vice versa.
  • The standings in the table are decided first by greatest number of wins.
  • Then it takes into account the greatest number of matches played (a 2-1 win-loss record beats a 2-0 win-loss record).
  • After that it comes down to head-to-head results if two players are tied.
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