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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, November 19, 2020

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal broke four times defeating defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 to secure a semifinal spot in the ATP Finals for the first time since 2015.

Photo credit: Getty

The O2 Arena devoid of fans presents sterile sightlines this week.

An adrenalized Rafael Nadal continues to fill the empty arena with energized effort.

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Rising to the pressure of a win-and-you’re-in match, Nadal broke serve four times defeating defending-champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 to secure his first trip to the ATP Finals semifinals since 2015.

"I am playing well. Yeah, happy to be in the semifinals, of course, and excited," Nadal said. "And, yeah, I am looking forward to play against probably the player who is playing better the last couple of weeks, and I'm excited about that. Let's see. Going to be amazing challenge and I hope to be ready for it."

Continuing his quest for the ATP Finals title that has eluded him, Nadal will face Rolex Paris Masters champion Daniil Medvedev in Saturday’s semifinal that’s a rematch of the classic 2019 US Open final that Nadal won in five pulsating sets.

"He's playing amazing this year for sure now," Nadal said of Medvedev. "He played semifinals in New York and now winning in Paris, and winning two matches here of course he has plenty of confidence and playing very, very high level.

"But we are in the semifinals of the World Tour Finals so we can't expect another story, no? Playing against the best players in good shape. I know I need to play at my 100% if I want to have chances, and that's what I'm gonna try."

Today’s round-robin clash was the second time Tsitsipas and Nadal squared off at the ATP Finals in a year following the king of clay’s 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5 triumph in round-robin play last year.

This time around, Nadal set the tone on serve topping Tsitsipas for the sixth time in seven meetings, including winning all four of their hard-court encounters.

It was a dynamic effort from Tsitsipas, whose second serve could not withstand Nadal's onslaught in the decider
—he won just three second-serve points in the third set in falling short of the semifinals.

"I played very hard in the second set and played with the right intentions, which gave me lots of opportunities," Tsitsipas said. "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 much aggressive. I was giving him free points without really, you know, himself doing much or hurting me from the back."

The 20-time Grand Slam champion served 65 percent, pumped eight aces against one double fault—which cost him the second set—and protected his second serve better winning 15 of 25 second-serve points. Most importantly, Nadal exuded intensity and attacked net on pivotal points to pressure the 22-year-old Greek.

It all added up to Nadal’s sixth ATP Finals semifinal in his 10th appearance at the prestigious year-end event before a smattering of fellow players including Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman.

Striking with precision on serve at the outset, Tsitsipas thumped a 136 mph ace that helped him stamp a love hold for 2-1.

Serving at 2-all, Tsitsipas showed his flair with the leaping one-handed backhand and Nadal responded with anticipation flicking a forehand winner down the line.

Carrying 1002 career victories onto court, Nadal knows all about match adjustments.

The second-ranked Spaniard answered a drop shot with a dropper of his own and an angled short volley before banging is first ace out wide to level after six games.

Staring down double break point in the seventh game, Tsitsipas caught a break when Nadal failed to put a second-serve return in the court. The lanky Greek snapped off a smash to save the second and swept a swing volley holding for 4-3.

Still, Nadal kept hitting high and heavy topspin to the Greek’s one-handed backhand eliciting a netted reply for a third break point. Feeling the jitters, Tsitsipas sailed his first double fault donating the break and a 5-4 lead.

A Tsitsipas return collided into the top of the tape and fluttered over. The fortuitous bounce put Nadal in a 30-all bind. Strong serving repeatedly empowered Nadal to quiet disturbances.

As sweat seeped off his forehead and dripped to the blue court, Nadal locked in and lasered successive aces—flipping his standard pattern by going wide on the deuce side and down the T on the ad side—to close a sharp set.

The left-hander set the tone with a varied first delivery dotting all areas of the box serving 80 percent and winning 15 of 17 first-serve points.

The good news for Tsitsipas: He was playing the type of all-court tennis he needed to test the 20-time Grand Slam champion, but blinked with the double fault costing him the break.

The bad news: ferocious front-runner Nadal was 23-0 when winning the first set this season.

The defending champion denied a break point to start the second set lashing a short-angled backhand winner before launching a leaping one-hander down the line. That sequence helped Tsitsipas survive the first game.

Tennis Express

Streaking through service games, Nadal nudged a slick half-volley drop winner—his 10th consecutive point on serve—evening the second set at two games apiece.

Both men served with vigilance throughout the second set. Nadal zapped a second-serve ace down the T stamping his fourth love hold of the match for 4-all.

Deploying fine feel on the drop shot, Tsitsipas dragged Nadal forward and fired a pass the Spaniard could not control to snatch double set point. Nadal threw down a smash to save the first set point.

On the second, Nadal slapped his first double fault of the day into the tape ceding the break and the set to Tsitsipas.

The second-set high gave way to emotional ebb. Tsitsipas imploded to start the decider slapping a forehand into net then spinning a crosscourt forehand wide to give the 13-time Roland Garros champion the opening break.

Resetting, Tsitsipas was stepping in cracking shots with more venom to break right back on a netted Nadal backhand.

Nadal soared for superb high backhand volley—making the toughest shot in tennis look like an aerial dance—and leaving Tsitsipas muttering misgivings. Two points later, Nadal unleashed a series of punishing crosscourt forehands banging out the third straight break at love for 2-1.

The second-seeded Nadal climbed out of a love-30 hole to confirm the break with his first hold since 4-all in the second set.

Handcuffing his opponent with heavy topspin to his one-hander, Nadal earned double break point. When Tsitsipas overshot the sideline with a diagonal forehand, Nadal had his third break of the set for 5-2.

On his second match point, Nadal rapped a backhand winner down in the line charging into his sixth semifinal at the year-end event and first since he lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2015 semifinals.


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