Five years later, Rafael Nadal returns to the semifinals of the teachers’ tournament. After falling last year in the group stage, despite winning two games, not participating in 2016 and 2018, and retiring in 2017, the Spanish stepped into the penultimate round of the ATP Finals that he has never won and in which he is two title wins.
And he will allow himself the luxury of trying one more time because he defeated a Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday who was defending the title, but who was left with the desire (6-4, 4-6 and 6-2). The Greek, who already fell to Nadal last year, was diluted against the Balearic and handed over a crown that his rival hopes to collect.
And that Tsitsipas started at a very good pace, supported by a perfect serve and a fine backhand that relied on the crusader and the parallel to escape the effects of Nadal. The one from Manacor had to pull ex officio to hold the first six games, losing two break balls along the way, until he found a way to penetrate the tennis of the tall Hellenic player.
With a very defined plan to change angles and be very aggressive, Tsitsipas led the compass of the game, until Nadal’s right changed the north. Having closed any doors that Tsitsipas might sneak through, Nadal delivered the mental blow in the ninth game.
He broke after taking advantage of two backhand errors and a double fault from the Greek and posed a great question. If at this level he was hardly hurting Nadal, what more would he need?
Second in the world in 2020
With the ‘number two’ in the world already secured at the end of the season after Dominic Thiem’s defeat against Andrey Rublev, he knew that he had turned the game around, that the rudder wielded by Tsitsipas had slipped from his hand and that the ship to the semifinals he was now going for his racket.
He was able to kill him, with a breaking ball saved by an immeasurable backhand without an angle from Tsitsipas, but he granted one more life to the Greek, who survived in pain and in the fine line by which Nadal was not able to land the final blow. And the missed opportunities took their toll. He had only lost one point on serve, but gave up the break and the set in the tenth game with an inopportune double fault.
Tsitsipas was then heading to a set in which he would start serving again, with the advantage that this grants, but he was dwarfed. It started as Nadal finished it, with a double fault, and giving away the service.
Tsitisipas recovered and broke Nadal again, but his blurring at service was already evident, delivering the next blank and giving Nadal an advantage that he would not let go of until the end.
In his return to the semifinals, Nadal will face this Saturday a Daniil Medvedev who still has a game left this Friday, against Diego Schwartzman, but in which he will not have more at stake than 200 points and more than 150,000 dollars. It will be the fourth clash between the Spanish and the Russian, and he has always won the first. All three matches have been on hard court, including the final of the 2019 US Open.