Entering the ATP Finals, there were questions surrounding Rafael Nadal’s status after he withdrew from the Rolex Paris Masters with an abdominal injury.
On Monday, he was overpowered by Alexander Zverev, 6-2, 6-4, to lose his first match since Wimbledon, as well as first encounter in six meetings with the German. Naturally, the first question Nadal fielded in his post-match press conference was about his health moving forward in the tournament, but the top seed was quick to assert his body held up.
“I did not feel pain in the abdominal at all,” stated Nadal. “He served huge. Very, very fast. Difficult to read first [and] second. No doubt about that, about how good he is and how good he is able to serve.
“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. That's the only thing.”
The season-ending event is the biggest trophy missing from Nadal’s cabinet and health aside, his road to advancing out of his group will only get tougher. The 33-year-old will face Daniil Medvedev Wednesday in a rematch of the US Open final, which Nadal won in five gripping sets. Nadal is hopeful to find his trademark tenacity after spending the majority of the past week testing the waters on the practice court.
“It’s true that I was not able to create a lot of practice and a lot of effort on that part of the body since last Saturday. So is a positive thing that I hold the whole match today,” Hopefully I can keep going, and hopefully I can practice a little bit more tomorrow,” Nadal said.
“So, the physical issue was not an excuse at all. The only excuse is I was not good enough tonight.”
Nadal began the week with a 640-point lead over Novak Djokovic in the battle for year-end No. 1. With Djokovic’s victory Sunday over Matteo Berrettini and Nadal’s loss, the gap has been trimmed by 200 points.
Zverev, the defending champion, will look to move to 2-0 when he takes on Medvedev’s conqueror, Stefanos Tsitsipas.