Rafael Nadal put himself in a challenging position following an early loss at the ATP Finals in Turin. The Spaniard fell to Taylor Fritz 7-6, 6-1 in the first round-robin duel, and things are only getting tougher for him at the event where he never lifted the trophy.
Nadal will face an in-form Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second match, with a losing player almost certainly leaving the competition. The Spaniard and the Canadian failed to win a set on Sunday, and they need to score a win to remain in contention for the semi-final.
Felix will seek opportunities against a 22-time Major winner, defeating Novak Djokovic at the Laver Cup in September and playing well in the upcoming events. Auger-Aliassime conquered three consecutive titles in Florence, Antwerp and Basel, cracking the top-10 and rattling off 16 straight wins.
Felix reached the Paris Masters semi-final but could not fight for the fourth consecutive title after losing to Holger Rune. Auger-Aliassime made his ATP Finals debut against Casper Ruud and fell in straight sets. Now, he has to beat Nadal for the first time to keep the semi-final chances alive.
Rafa and Felix played a memorable Roland Garros match, with the Spaniard prevailing 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in four hours and 21 minutes in the fourth round! It was a real test for the king of clay, who needed injections to compete injury-free in Paris.
Rafa could have defeated Felix earlier had he converted more break chances, creating 22 and seizing only six! The Canadian earned five breaks to remain competitive and became the fourth player who kept Nadal on the court at Roland Garros for over four hours.
Rafael Nadal and Felix Auger-Aliassime play in Turin on Tuesday.
Despite a great effort, he could not play his best tennis in the decider and hit the exit door. Rafa grabbed 17 points more than Felix and outplayed him in the mid-range and most extended exchanges.
Nadal made the difference with the second serve, getting broken five times and seizing six out of 22 opportunities on the return to emerge at the top! Rafa played on a high level in sets two and three to overcome a slow start and improve his chances.
Auger-Aliassime forced a decider with a reliable performance in the fourth set, and Nadal claimed it with a single break that pushed him through. Felix will also have his chances on the fast indoor court in Turin, especially after Rafa's three straight losses and no matches in his legs after July.
"The ATP Finals has become a regular tournament for Felix and me, with a loser going home. I accept that I have to improve my game, and I hope to be ready and make that happen. Felix has played unbelievable tennis in the season's closing stages, winning three consecutive titles and performing well. It's another big challenge for me," Rafael Nadal said.