Champions love to beat champions. And Rafael Nadal, who has seen it all at 34, couldn’t hide his joy after beating the exuberant young starter, Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, on Thursday night to get closer to two wins. of the uprising. only the second indoor hardcourt title of his career.
While no one since the event’s inauguration in 1970 can match his streak of 16 straight qualifications in the various iterations of the ATP Tour Finals, the unmatched man on clay has reached six semi-finals and two finals in 10 attempts without getting his hands on it. the end of season award. Roger Federer has won six times and Novak Djokovic five.
Compiling 86 titles in his career, 20 of them older, 13 at Roland Garros, Nadal has not joined the only indoor hard court championship he won during his second year on the tour, when he beat Ivan Ljubicic in five sets in Madrid. It is a curious hole in the shining CV of the Mallorcan.
“It was a very positive game for me and I’m looking forward to the semi-finals. [for the first time in five years], “he said.” Last year I had a bit of bad luck [after winning two matches]. The previous year I had to retire. It is always difficult to play here every day against the best players in the world at the end of the season, a bit tired ”.
Nadal controlled traffic comfortably as Tsitsipas struggled to contain his pace and location in the first set. The second set followed a similar pattern, though Tsitsipas struggled on every play and could hardly believe it when his opponent, hitherto laser-focused, double faulted to gift him parity.
Three straight breaks early in the third set, in favor of Nadal, left the result in limbo until he secured a strong hold for 3-1 with a tight backhand rocket serve from Tsitsipas. From there to the end, his experience began while keeping the 22-year-old Greek moving at his own pace.
Tsitsipas killed a forehand to surrender his serve again in the seventh game and pushed Nadal through two at 2-5, but was unable to do anything with Nadal’s final backhand down the line.
Nadal faces the cheerleader of the week, Daniil Medvedev, in the semifinals on Saturday, while Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev, who will meet in the closing match of the other group of all against all on Friday, will have to overcome the finalist of the last year, Dominic. Thiem, whose aura was dramatically punctured Thursday afternoon.
Thiem admitted after his listless 6-2, 7-5 loss to tournament rookie Andrey Rublev in an hour and a quarter that he has “no chance” against Zverev or Djokovic on Saturday if he cannot rediscover the energy of two previous victories. he had already propelled him to the semifinals.
“The fact that I was already qualified, in the back of my mind, it was difficult today to keep that intensity alive,” said the world No. 3 and US Open champion. “If I’m not 110% in this tournament, [I have] no chance against any of these players. It doesn’t matter who I face. I’m going to play the winner of Sascha against Novak, and they are both great; both are former champions of this tournament. The goal for me is to find great intensity tomorrow in training. “
However, there was a price to pay in this match: 250 qualifying points, $ 135,000 in prize money and his 300th win. Thiem’s journey since his first career win, against compatriot and former world number one Thomas Muster Nine years ago in Vienna, it has been largely golden. But his fall Thursday, even considering the circumstances, was a significant bump. And Rublev’s rise was not; He has had an excellent season and could be a fixture at this level for many years.
As the Russian said later, it was not a futile exercise. “It’s a very important game because it gives me 200 points, which is a lot. It’s more than if you made a final on an ATP 250 ”.
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