Nadal overwhelms Tsitsipas to succeed in the ATP semifinals

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© Reuters. ATP finals

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By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – Rafa Nadal’s hopes of winning the ATP finals for the first time at the end of the year live on after the Spaniard beat defending champions Stefanos Tsitsipas 6: 4: 4: 6: 6: 2 on Thursday.

The last round robin match in the London group had turned into a straight knockout as both men lost to Dominic Thiem and defeated Andrey Rublev earlier in the week.

But it was the Spaniard Nadal who, despite a time-lapse that allowed Tsitsipas to turn the competition into a decision maker in an almost deserted O2 arena, was always the more likely winner.

After a series of breaks at the beginning of the third set, 34-year-old Nadal showed all his experience to retire and reach the semifinals for the first time in five years.

As runner-up behind the Austrian Thiem, he will meet Daniil Medwedew to secure a place in the final. The Russian has already secured first place in the Tokyo group.

Novak Djokovic, number 1 in the world, will play against Alexander Zverev on Friday. The winner plays against Thiem in the other semifinals.

“In general, this was a very positive game for me,” said Nadal, who despite winning 20 Grand Slam titles can only boast two runners-up in his last nine appearances at the ATP finals. “Excited to be in the semi-finals.”

Nadal was inviolable when he served in the first set and only lost five points. The pressure on Tsitsipas, who could not unleash his attacking game, was great.

SUCCESSIVE ACES

The Greek fought 3-3 against breakpoints, but broke 4-4 with a double fault that gave Nadal the chance to serve for the opening set, a task he accomplished with consecutive aces.

Nadal had won his last 70 games when he won the first set, so Tsitsipas’ prospects looked bleak, but he received an unexpected lifeline when Nadal struggled on a 4-5 serve.

A well-hit backhand gave Tsitsipas a couple of setpoints out of the blue, and while Nadal saved one with a first serve, he made a double mistake to send the match into a decision.

Tsitsipas immediately dropped serve but broke Nadal again when the Spaniard hit a backhand. The Greek failed to take the initiative, however, and a loose backhand made for a fourth consecutive service break after just one in their first 19 games.

Nadal then regained his authority to come home.

Tsitsipas, who enjoyed his breakthrough here last year when he defeated Thiem in the finals at the age of 21, was dejected about his performance.

“I fought hard in the second set, but was very disappointed in the third set. I was in a rush and didn’t know what to honestly want to do. I should have been a little smarter,” he said.

Earlier in the day Rublev beat Thiem 6: 2: 7: 5 to end his first appearance with a high. He earned $ 153,000 for winning the group and 200 ranking points.

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