With newcomer Stefanos Tsitsipas safe in the knowledge that he has already qualified for the semi-finals, it all came down to Rafael Nadal to secure his spot in the semi-final. But it comes with a catch. A win for Nadal would only be half the job, as he needed Daniil Medvedev to also take out defending champion Alexander Zverevto guarantee his spot.
There was nothing to split them at all in the first set, with not a single break point emerging. To make up for it, they traded breaks twice in the tie-break before Tsitsipas got a decisive mini-break and served out for the lead.
Nadal was by far the more aggressive in the second set, having three chances to break the Greek before making good in the penultimate game before serving for the set, albeit needing three set points to get over the line.
The deciding set had all the drama in a physical contest that started to show up Tsitsipas’ fatigue. The Greek saved two break points in one game, and another on his serve a couple of games later. Nadal was not going to be denied though, breaking through for the fifth time of asking for a *6-5 lead, serving out to give himself the slimmest chance of joining Tsitsipas in the semi-finals.
Now Tsitsipas also needs the outcome of the Medvedev/Zverev match to determine where in the group he sits.
He said, of the match-ups: “Thiem plays with a lot of intensity, uses his forehand very well. Roger is very aggressive. I mean, both very aggressive players but different styles. I would compare that one is just flawless and doesn’t use too much of his power to play. The other one is really forcing much.
“I’m going to take it pretty much the same way, both single-handed backhands. I have played them both. I don’t know. It’s not much to say about them. I respect them, and I have to play well. I know that, because everything is — everything counts in the semi-finals of the O2.”
With the prospect of his semi-final spot now in someone else’s hands, Nadal was suitable pragmatic.
He said: “I’m not sure if I going to watch the match or not. I don’t know. The only thing that is sure is I have to be ready for anything, so I think I did my work and I did it well. Happy for the victory. Then now I have to wait.
“Look, if I’m not in that semi-finals, I go to Madrid with positive confidence that I am playing better and better. For me was important, more than being in that semi-finals or not, of course I would love to be, is to go from here with the feeling that I did all the things possible to be there and to finalise the ATP year with a positive feeling, no? And that’s what I did, because I think I played a good match today.”
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Being drawn coming into the final round-robin is nothing new for the defending champion Zverev, and that experience looked to be holding him in good stead as he started the match with an immediate break over an already eliminated Medvedev. There would be no more chances for either in the set as Zverev held on to the advantage to take the lead.
The second set was equally competitive, with not a sniff of a break point all the way up to a tie-breaker. Exchanging mini-breaks, it was Zverev who took the decisive minibreak, delivering on his two serves to book his place in the semi-finals.
His celebration was enough to remind everyone of the significance of his win last year, and he explained, after the match: “This place is special to me. I feel different here, and this kind of feeling I want to take to next year, as well, to the next tournament. Doesn’t matter if I win or lose. Obviously I want to win and I’ll do everything I can, but kind of memorising this last year and this year and getting it to the other big events, as well, is something that I’ll hope to do for the future, you know, next year and the next few years.”
The semi-finals start are scheduled not before 2pm and 8pm.
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