02:30 PM GMT November 15, 2019
Editors update: Nadal can no longer clinch a semi-final spot at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals, after Zverev's win over Medvedev on Friday night.
Rafael Nadal has already clinched year-end No. 1 in the ATP Rankings, but he wants more at the Nitto ATP Finals. The Spaniard prevailed in a 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5 marathon on Friday against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Group Andre Agassi.
Nadal needed to defeat Tsitsipas in order to maintain his chance at advancing out of round-robin action at The O2 in London. Daniil Medvedev must now beat Alexander Zverev in the night session in order for the Spaniard to secure his place in the semi-finals. If Medvedev prevails, Nadal will finish first in the group and face Roger Federer for a place in the title match.
“I don't know if I [will] see you tomorrow because it depends on the match this afternoon. I did all the things that I could today. I fought until the end, two days ago [and] today,” Nadal said to the crowd in his on-court interview. “If I am able to play in front of you tomorrow against Roger, it will be a huge honour. And if not, I really hope to see you next year. So many thanks. Thank you very much everyone.”
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Nadal leads his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Federer 24-16, but the Swiss has won four of their five meetings at the season-ending championships. The last time the legends clashed at the season finale was in 2013 — also in the semi-finals — when the Spaniard earned his first victory against Federer at this event to reach his second final at the year-end championships.
”[This] is one of the surfaces that he feels comfortable on. He plays so well. He plays so fast. I need to play a perfect match tomorrow if I want to have any chance to be in that final,” Nadal said. “I think I am playing better, but it is true that Roger played unbelievable yesterday. He will come to that match with plenty of confidence. So let's see. I hope to be ready to compete at the highest level possible if that's the case.
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The World No. 1 is trying to reach the last four at the season-ending championships for the first time since 2015 and sixth time overall. He is now 6-2 in final round-robin matches at this event. After being forced to withdraw before his semi-final at the Rolex Paris Masters with an abdominal injury, Nadal is pleased with how quickly he has gotten up to speed.
”Preparations [for this event] have been very short and it’s the worst tournament possible to arrive [at] without the best preparation possible," Nadal said. "In other tournaments, sometimes you can be a little bit more lucky with the draw. You can win two matches and then you have a tough one, but you will be more prepared for it.
”But here, on the first day, you play one of the best players in the world on a tough surface. If you don't arrive with plenty of confidence in your body and your movements, things become much more difficult. I think that's what happened. Then I think I have been improving on my tennis each day.”
The Spaniard secured year-end No. 1 in the ATP Rankings after Federer defeated Novak Djokovic on Thursday. It’s the fifth time that Nadal has finished a season in the top spot. He received the year-end No. 1 trophy in an on-court presentation ceremony following his win over Tsitsipas.
Neither player faced a break point in the opening set. Nadal and Tsitsipas remained even until 4/4 in the tie-break, when the Greek secured a mini-break after Nadal hit a backhand into the net. Tsitsipas closed out the set with an ace two points later. He finished the set with 13 winners and 13 unforced errors.
But Nadal wasn’t ready for his time at The O2 to end. He earned the first pair of break points of the match at 2-2 in the second set, but couldn’t convert. A third break point came and went at 3-3 after a strong first serve from Tsitsipas. But Nadal made good at 4-4 and roared in approval after Tsitsipas launched a forehand wide. The Spaniard comfortably held in the next game to even the score. Nadal produced 11 winners to just six unforced errors in the second set and lost five points on serve (20/25).
It appeared that Nadal might run away with the match after knocking off a backhand volley to grab two break points at 2-2 in the deciding set, but Tsitsipas bravely fought back with aggressive play. The Greek then saved another break point at 3-3 with a big first serve. Both men saved their their best tennis for the final stages of the match and traded high-quality winners with each other.
A forehand passing shot winner on the run at 5-5 gave Nadal two more break points, but Tsitsipas again pulled a Houdini act and brought the score to deuce. Nadal refused to be denied, though. He earned his fifth break point of the set after prevailing in a lengthy baseline exchange and finally converted after Tsitsipas pushed a backhand volley wide.
The World No. 1 raised his arms in triumph after holding serve at 6-5 to prevail after two hours and 52 minutes. Nadal finished the day with 38 winners to 30 unforced errors and didn't offer his opponent a break point.
Nadal improved to 5-1 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Tsitsipas. All three of their previous clashes this year took place in the semi-finals. Nadal prevailed at the Australian Open and Internazionali BNL d’Italia, while Tsitsipas scored an upset at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Tsitsipas qualified for the semi-finals on Wednesday by winning his first two matches in Group Andre Agassi. The Greek is making his debut at The O2 this week.
"My body feels well currently. I don't feel pain anywhere. I feel fresh, honestly," Tsitsipas said. "After having a long, difficult match like this, I feel like I can go out and play tomorrow the same way. So I don't have any problem with that."