Before meeting Alexander Zverev in the semifinals at the recently concluded Paris Masters, 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal had not lost a completed match in Paris since 2015, when he lost to Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals. He then missed out on Bercy in 2016 and 2018 through injury, whilst he withdrew ahead of his quarterfinal and semifinal in 2017 and 2019.
His dream of clinching his maiden title at Paris Bercy this year was ended by the 23-year-old German, as he was overpowered by the relentless Zverev, who won 6-4 7-5. The blow was perhaps softened by the fact that the 20-time Major champion has amassed 86 titles so far in his glittering career. But only two of those wins have come on indoor hard courts, with the Spaniard’s woes at indoor tournaments continuing following his loss against Zverev.
Nadal’s serve once again let him down as he succumbed in straight sets against the in-form Zverev. A good serve and the ability to hit the ball flat and hard in heavy conditions are two key weapons any player needs if they are to excel indoors and, unsurprisingly, Nadal’s tendency to give the ball a lot of air and a serve that is only moderately powerful, have always made his life difficult in such conditions.
In fact, at his first tournament since his remarkable victory at the French Open in October, the world #2 appeared rather jaded and rusty throughout. He had to survive scares against fellow Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and Pablo Carreno Busta en route to the semifinals and came up well-short against Zverev.
Still, whilst he failed to accomplish his mission of laying his hands on a first-ever title at the Paris Masters, the Spaniard had a lot to gain from his defeat as he prepares himself to compete at the ATP Finals in London next week.
Like in Bercy, the Mallorca native is yet to win a title at the season-ending championships and with the likes of Novak Djokovic, a five-time champion at the event, and recent US Open champion Dominic Thiem expected to be back in action after skipping the Paris Masters, the playing field appears to be extremely competitive this year in London.
That said, Nadal’s record at the ATP Finals is not dreadful. He was a finalist in 2010 and in 2013, but lost to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic respectively. However, he failed to qualify for the semifinals at last year’s event despite winning two of his round-robin matches and, as a result, Nadal will surely be eager to turnaround his fortunes at the O2 Arena this year.
At the age of 34, the Spaniard is not getting any younger and one wonders if this might be his last real chance to finally clinch the title at the ATP Finals. Especially because he comes into the tournament injury free and fresh after a pandemic-curtailed season whereas in the past Nadal has often arrived in London injured and tired.
But with no apparent health issues, the Spaniard can give his all in his bid to win the most prestigious title to have always eluded him. Can Nadal shrug off his recent loss, elevate his performance in conditions that do not suit his game and claim the coveted prize of the ATP Finals title? Or will his agonising wait for a win at the season-ending championships continue?
Either way, it looks set to be an interesting week for the Spaniard in London.
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