Embracing his tenth ATP Finals campaign (he missed the event six times due to injuries), Rafael Nadal has reached the first semi-final in London since 2015. Playing only 14 matches since March due to coronavirus pandemic, Nadal was fresh and rested ahead of the premium ATP event, the one that has kept running away from him ever since the debut in 2006.
Nadal was the finalist in 2010 and 2013, losing those matches to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic and hoping for another strong run this week following wins over Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. A year ago, Nadal lost the opening ATP Finals match to Alexander Zverev, bouncing back to notch thrilling triumphs over Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, failing to reach the semis and improving his tally to 18 wins at the season-ending event.
With those two recent victories over Rublev and Tsitsipas, Nadal became the eighth player in the tournament's history with 20 victories, leaving John McEnroe on 19 and trailing two behind Andre Agassi and Ilie Nastase.
In the first match, Rafa toppled the young Russian 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 17 minutes for a winning start. It was their first clash since the US Open 2017, and the Spaniard had the upper hand, dropping 12 points in ten service games and never facing a break point.
Returning Rublev's serves with aggression, Rafa stole the opponent's serve once in each set to claim the victory and add 200 points to his tally. Dominating with his initial shot, Nadal had 16 winners and 11 unforced errors, leaving the Russian on 19 winners and 23 mistakes.
Hitting a service winner in almost 40% of all the points, Rafa had a massive 44-28 advantage in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, standing in the court on the second-serve return and earning those two breaks that carried him over the top.
Rafael Nadal is the eighth player with 20 ATP Finals victories.
In the second match, Rafa suffered a tight 7-6, 7-6 loss to Dominic Thiem, squandering chances in both sets and setting a must-winning clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas in the battle for a place in the semis.
The Spaniard ousted the defending champion 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in two hours and four minutes. Nadal secured the victory with a strong decider's strong performance, earning four breaks and hitting 32 winners and 13 unforced errors.
The more experienced player had the advantage in the quickest and more extended rallies, doing enough damage on the return to remain on the title course, facing Daniil Medvedev on Saturday. Nadal won the opening set after a break in game nine, serving well and keeping the pressure on Stefanos in set number two before the Greek found a way to grab a break in game ten and force a decider.
Starting all over, Rafa produced three breaks in the final set, breaking the rival's resistance and sailing into the semis for the sixth time at this event.