Rafael Nadal is through to the ATP Finals semi-final for the first time since 2015, ousting the defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in two hours and four minutes. It was a decisive battle and Nadal won it with a strong performance in the decider, earning four breaks and hitting 32 winners and 13 unforced errors.
Rafa had the advantage in the quickest and more extended rallies, doing enough damage on the return to remain on the title course. Nadal had the upper hand in the opener, serving well and earning one break for 6-4. Landing 76% of the first serve in, the Spaniard lost five points behind the initial shot, facing no break points and keeping the pressure on the other side of the net.
It was another high-quality set of tennis in London this week, with Nadal firing 12 winners and four unforced errors while the Greek stood on an 11-10 ratio, losing ground only in the closing stages. Rafa returned a staggering 90% of Stefanos' serves, beating him in the shortest and most extended exchanges to move a set away from the triumph.
The last year's champion placed a perfect drop shot winner in the opening game to get his name on the scoreboard before Nadal held at love to level the score and make a promising start. The youngster closed the third game without losing a point following Nadal's rare smash mistake and sprayed a backhand error in the next one to bring Rafa back to 2-2.
Stefanos forced Rafa's backhand error to wrap up the fifth game, forging another lead before Nadal placed back-to-back winners for another impressive hold and 3-3. The first problems for the servers came in game seven when Rafa created two break chances with a forehand crosscourt winner, denied by Stefanos, who grabbed four straight points to get out of jail and remain on the positive side.
Rafael Nadal is through to the last four in London for the first time in five years.
Leaving those chances behind him, Rafa fired a service winner for a comfortable hold in game eight, hoping for more opportunities on the return before the tie break.
Tsitsipas cracked under pressure at 4-4, hitting a double fault to give serve away and allowing Nadal to wrap up the opener with an ace down the T line at 5-4 after 41 minutes. The Greek painted a backhand crosscourt winner to fend off a break chance at the beginning of the second set, holding with a backhand down the line winner to survive.
Pushing strong behind the initial shot, Nadal held at love in games two and four, closing that fourth game with three winners to keep the pressure on the other side. Tsitsipas served well to match that pace, bringing games five and seven home at 30 and moving closer to the tie break.
At 4-5, Nadal sent a volley long to offer two set points to Tsitsipas, double-faulting on the second to hand the set to the Greek and having to start all over in the decider. Losing that second-set steam, Stefanos sprayed a forehand error to lose serve at the beginning of the third set, improving his backhand in game two to pull the break back and level the score at 1-1.
Staying calm, Nadal produced outstanding shotmaking in game three to grab the second straight break and forge another lead, gathering a boost ahead of the remaining games. Serving in game four, Rafa overcame a 30-0 deficit and held with a service winner to confirm the break and move 3-1 in front.
The Spaniard seized a break in game seven for another significant step and moved over the top with a backhand down the line winner at 5-2 for the place in the semis.