Rafael Nadal knocks out defending champion Tsitsipas to book Medvedev clash

Rafael Nadal booked his spot in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals on Thursday night as he eliminated defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Nadal, the world No. 2 from Spain, bounced back from Tuesday’s defeat to Dominic Thiem in his second round robin match with a 6-4 4-6 6-2 win after two hours and four minutes.

He did little wrong in his defeat to Thiem – one of the highest-quality matches one could hope to watch – and suggested he felt he was in with a shout of winning one of the few high-profile tournaments that have alluded him so far.

On this evidence, it would be hard to back against him, although he faces a stiff test next in Daniil Medvedev – the Russian world No. 4 who has already beaten former champions Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic at the O2.

It’s the first time Nadal, a two-time runner-up in London, has reached the semi-finals since 2015. He remains without an indoor hard court title since 2005.

But having played a reduced season amid the coronavirus pandemic, the 20-time Grand Slam champion appears fresher than ever at this time of year and if he continues operating at this level, he will be tough to stop.

The French Open champion said after his three-set win: ‘I think I played quite well for such a long time.

‘That game at 5-4 in the second affected me a little bit… I think I was winning my serves quite comfortably until that moment. After that, everything changed a little bit. I think I started to serve a little bit worse.

‘But in general terms have been a very positive match for me, to be in the semi-finals here at the last tournament of the year is an important thing. Happy for that and I am looking forward to that semi-finals against Daniil.’

Nadal had the first opportunities to break in the seventh game of the match but Tsitsipas, fresh from saving match point against Andrey Rublev in his previous match, held his nerve to hold.

Tsitsipas cracked in his next service game. With Nadal applying the pressure and setting up his third break point of the contest, he double faulted and Nadal made no mistake in serving out the opener, which he sealed with an ace after 41 minutes.

Falling a set down to Nadal is typically not great news. He had won his previous 70 matches after claiming the opener, with his last defeat coming to Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco in 2019.

Indeed, Tsitsipas came under siege early in the second set but saved a break point in his opening service game.

While Tsitsipas looked after his own serve, he couldn’t make any inroads into Nadal’s. The Spaniard dropped just six points in his first nine service games. In the ninth of those holds, he hit back-to-back second serve aces.

But, out of nowhere, he wobbled in the 10th and served a double fault on a second break point to allow Tsitsipas to level.

With both men suddenly wobbly on serve, the decider kicked off with three consecutive breaks but Nadal finally held from 0-30 to take control.

And after a wayward forehand from Tsitsipas flew wide in the seventh game of the third set, it was curtains for last year’s champion as Nadal booked his spot in the final four.

He follows Group London 2020 winner Thiem – who was beaten in straight sets by Andrey Rublev in a dead rubber in the afternoon – into the semi-finals.

Thiem will face either Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev in the second semi-final. Djokovic and Zverev will play their de facto quarter-final on Friday afternoon.

Britain’s Joe Salisbury earlier advanced to the semi-finals of the ATP Finals after he and partner Rajeev Ram defeated German duo Andreas Mies and Kevin Krawietz 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 10-4.

The Anglo-American duo, playing in this event for a second time, finished second in Group Mike Bryan and could face any of the pairings in Group Bob Bryan, which will be finished on Friday.

Salisbury was placed into quarantine in the weeks leading up to the finals after his coach Rob Morgan tested positive for coronavirus – with he and Ram forced to withdraw from the Paris Masters – but it has not stopped the pair charging into the semi-finals.

The Briton, 28, said after the match: ‘Obviously it wasn’t the ideal preparation coming in, but, yeah, I think we still had, at least I know I still had quite high expectations for us as a team, and really, really wanted to do well here, get out of the group. Obviously we want to keep going. Two more matches to win.

‘But, yeah, I think our level has been getting better throughout the week, so, yeah, hopefully it will keep going.’

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