It’s a must-win scenario for Rafael Nadal at the Nitto ATP Finals on Friday afternoon: the Spaniard needs to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has already qualified for the semifinals, just to have a chance at joining the Greek in the final four of the season-ending tournament. If he loses, he’s out.
After falling to Alexander Zverev in straight sets in his first round-robin match of the week, 6-2, 6-4, Nadal battled back from 5-1 down in the third set—and fought off a match point—to squeak past Daniil Medvedev in an absolute thriller in his second round-robin match, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-6 (4).
A win Friday doesn't guarantee Nadal's place in the semifinals:
~ If Nadal beats Tsitsipas and Medvedev beats Zverev at night, Nadal qualifies.
~ If Nadal beats Tsitsipas and Zverev beats Medvedev, Zverev qualifies.
If his two-day turnaround between his loss to Zverev and his win over Medvedev is anything to go by, things could be looking up for the 19-time Grand Slam champion.
“I have been better than the other day, of course,” he said after beating Medvedev. “Knowing that I was not able to practice the way that I would like before the tournament, to be able to increase the level since two days ago to today like this is a very positive thing and I’m very happy with this.”
Nadal has won four of their five previous meetings, but they’ve split their last two encounters, at back-to-back Masters 1000 events during the clay-court season this year. Tsitsipas won in the semifinals of Madrid, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, and Nadal got revenge a week later in the semifinals of Rome, 6-3, 6-4.
Nadal has won both of their previous hard-court meetings, though they’ve never played indoors.
“I’m going to give it my all,” Tsitsipas said about his looming clash with the No. 1.
“I’m going to try to give my soul, and I think it’s also a very good challenge for me in order to prepare for more difficult matches in the semifinals and the finals, potentially. So this match is going to give me a lot. It’s going to educate me, and I’m going to try to get and absorb as much as I can from that.”
Tsitsipas will be going for his second career win over a reigning No. 1, having beaten Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the Masters 1000 in Shanghai last month when the Serb was still No. 1.
Earlier in the Nitto ATP Finals week, Tsitsipas was asked which of the Big Three is the toughest for him to play against, and without much hesitation he pointed to the man he’s playing next.
“I’d go for most players’ answer: Rafa Nadal,” he said. “That’s what everybody says. I totally agree.
“First of all, the intensity, his fighting spirit, his speed, movement on the court - he covers so much court when you play against him. So it’s not very easy to hit winners or play aggressive shots that are going to lead to more defensive balls. I just think mostly his fighting spirit and that he believes in himself so much when he’s out on the court. He has one of the best forehands in the game, too.”
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