In the seventh recreation of the deciding set in opposition to Daniil Medvedev, Rafael Nadal resorted to serve and volley thrice, shedding the purpose every time because the volley wasn’t quick sufficient, handing Medvedev the break at 3-3. But consider it: when was the final time one noticed Nadal serve and volley thrice in a single recreation, or perhaps a set?
The Spaniard’s first semi-final in 5 years on the ATP Finals resulted in defeat, failing to serve out for the match in a 6-3, 6-7(4), 3-6 loss to the on-song Russian in London on Saturday evening. It meant his huge trophy cupboard still has one huge vacuum—the season-ending indoor hard-court title fought by the highest eight males.
Nadal has 86 profession singles titles, zero on the ATP Finals. Zero regardless of qualifying for the distinguished occasion for 16 seasons; solely Roger Federer (18) has made the reduce extra occasions, and he has six titles to flaunt. Out of the 9 earlier appearances (an injury-prone Nadal has pulled out of the occasion six occasions), the Spaniard has had 4 group stage exits.
It’s a title Nadal has craved for, regardless of successful actually in every single place else. It’s a title for which Nadal, even at 34, confirmed willingness to make tactical modifications to his tried, examined and environment friendly recreation that has rewarded him with record-setting feats throughout surfaces. “This event is a big one and I am going to keep fighting for it,” he stated earlier than the match.
This 12 months, Nadal didn’t simply attempt to keep afloat and struggle, however got here up with methods to dictate play on an indoor floor the place he has a grand complete of 1 title (2005 Madrid). In all his 4 matches, Nadal unveiled completely different methods, making refined modifications to his recreation type not often seen from the claycourt maestro.
In his first spherical robin tie in opposition to in-form Andrey Rublev, Nadal persistently positioned himself contained in the baseline to return the Russian’s second serves. The sight of Nadal nearly touching the promoting boards to obtain serve on the crimson filth is widespread, however not in opposition to Rublev on the low-bouncing London exhausting courtroom. The end result? Nadal gained 13 out of 22 factors whereas returning the second serve, the standout stat in his 6-3, 6-Four thrashing of Rublev.
Against Dominic Thiem, one of many few gamers who can match Nadal when it comes to high quality and amount from the baseline, the Spaniard took the onus of shortening the factors. He rushed to the web on 20 events, succeeding 14 occasions. Nadal had two set factors within the first set and was ultimately overwhelmed in two shut tie-breakers; however not earlier than forcing the US Open champion to play at “a little bit higher level than at the US Open”, as Thiem analysed. “I think my chances are bigger to have a very good result now,” Nadal stated about his match prospects after that recreation.
In the knockout match with Stefanos Tsitsipas, Nadal knew which space of his recreation wanted to be at its sharpest in opposition to a participant who doesn’t possess one of the best returns among the many prime guys—the primary serve. The southpaw placed on a serving masterclass—a wholesome 65 per cent first serves in and an much more spectacular 80 per cent factors gained on first serve—to storm into his first semi-final in London since 2015.
There he met an opponent who was coming off an indoor title in Paris and who hadn’t dropped a set within the group stage, together with in opposition to the top-ranked Novak Djokovic. Against Medvedev, Nadal typically deployed the serve and volley, and often sliced the ball off his backhand to not give the Russian any tempo to fireside his ammunition. Leading 6-3, 5-4, it appeared to be working with Nadal heading in the right direction for his first last spot since 2013. But an unusually steep drop in degree whereas serving for the match noticed him damaged to like. Shot within the arm acquired, the big-striking Medvedev bagged the second set tie-breaker and dominated the out-of-gas Spaniard within the decider.
“I played a bad game. That’s it. But I had a big opportunity. I lost a big opportunity,” Nadal stated.
An alternative whereas feeling bodily contemporary owing to the pandemic-shortened season; a chance whereas taking part in out of his consolation zone that confirmed he can compete once more for that one lacking crown.
“I don’t want to pretend to be arrogant at all, because I am not. But I really don’t need to show even to myself or to no one that if I am playing my best tennis, I think I can win in every surface and against any player,” Nadal stated.