It was a very different Andrey Rublevwho took to the court on his last match of the season. Having looked jittery against Rafael Nadal in his opener and improved but ultimately edged out by defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, he came out for a free hit against the man in form – and made it count.
With Dominic Thiem having already qualified and taking the top spot, the pressure was arguably off in a match-up that has proved to be pretty equal in their prior head to heads.
Serving up two swift breaks of serve on the recently crowned US Open champion, Rublev showed the form that had taken him to five titles and the most ATP Tour match wins this year, and more importantly showed the form that brought him into this line-up.
Having wrapped up the first set, Thiem found himself once more on the back foot, getting broken in a long game before the change of ends at the start of the second set. Thiem was a lot more settled though, staying with the pace until he earned his chance to get the break back for 4-4.
Rublev battled hard in the penultimate game for a crucial break, and served out for the match, finishing on a high on his debut.
In his on-court interview, Rublev said: “I started really well, since the first point [and] since the first return. Dominic didn’t start that well and I took advantage [from] the beginning. That helped me to have more confidence and helped me to play better and better… I wish Dominic the best of luck in the semi-finals, he deserves to be where he is and he deserves to win the title.”
He continued: “I feel happy to be here. I was so close in my second match. I had match point and I was serving, so it could have been a completely different story if I won two matches. I would maybe still have a chance to be in the semi-finals… It is a part of life, [I] just need to keep working and we will see what is going to happen next.”
Thiem will face the winner of tomorrow’s winner-take-all clash between Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev – and admitted that he would need to try and find the same levels he had in the first two matches of the group stages.
He said: “The goal is to find the great intensity tomorrow in practice and then try to be 100 per cent in the match on Saturday, whoever I face.”
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Rafael Nadal  def. Stefanos Tsitsipas  6-4, 4-6, 6-2
Fast and furious was the best way to describe the opening of this winner takes all clash against Nadal and Tsitsipas.
Having had a couple of changes to break the Greek, Nadal was rewarded for his perseverance as Tsitsipas gifted him a break thanks to a double-fault, leaving Nadal to serve out for the first set.
Nadal looked to pressure again threatening a break in the first game of the second set, but Tsitsipas who looked like he was red-lining for most of the set hung tough with more further break points until he came up with a solid game to break Nadal to level the match.
The nervy decider started with three straight breaks. Nadal started to look the steadier of the pair, pressuring Tsitsipas whose serving started to look a little fatigued, resulting in a break for 5-2.
Tense to the end, Nadal took two match points to halt Tsitsipas’ title defence and to nook his spot in the semi-finals for the first time in five years.
Tsitsipas’ season is done and he felt the disappointment at not being able to defend the title he won on his debut.
He said, after the match: “I don’t even know what I was trying to do, honestly. Trying to be way, way too much aggressive. I was giving him free points without really, you know, himself doing much or hurting me from the back.
“I should have handled it a little bit more clever (sic) and patiently, but it didn’t happen. My serve was not there when I needed it, and these guys, you just have to be there. I wasn’t fully present. I wasn’t playing in the moment. Quite disappointed with that. But that’s life.”
For Nadal it is another chance to try and add the one title that has eluded him in his illustrious career.
He said: “Last year I was not able to be in that semi-finals, winning two matches too. This year I am. That’s something that usually winning two matches you are in the semi-finals, so happy for that. I needed to win that match, and I did it.
“It’s always good feeling when you are playing well and you’re playing against the best players of the world. You know you’re going to be a tough fight. That’s what happened tonight, no? I was able to find a way to win. Very happy.”
The final semi-final spot will be decided on Day Six of the Nitto ATP Finals, which begins at 12pm (GMT).
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