The ATP Finals is the biggest title to have eluded Rafael Nadal in his glittering career. The 2020 event, which begins on Sunday, will be the last edition held in London since its arrival at the O2 Arena in 2009 – before it moves to Turin next year. It could be one of the 34-year-old’s last opportunities to win the year-end showpiece.
Here is a look at Nadal’s record at the event dubbed “the fifth Grand Slam”:
Rafael Nadal’s ATP Finals History
Nadal has qualified for the tournament every year since 2005 – when he missed it due to an injury suffered in winning that year’s Madrid Masters. This proved to be a sign of things to come as Nadal also missed the ATP Finals through injury in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018. A knee issue also forced him to withdraw from the 2017 edition after losing his first round robin match.
The event’s position at the end of the grueling tennis calendar and Nadal’s susceptibility to injury on hard courts–the surface on which almost all events after Wimbledon are played–are major factors behind his absences. The Mallorcan has also faced the hurdle of the tournament being played on his least favourite surface–indoor hard. His 2005 Madrid Masters triumph remains his only title on the surface to date.
Nadal made the semifinals of the ATP Finals in 2006 and 2007, when the event was held in Shanghai. On both occasions, he lost to Roger Federer in straight sets after winning two of his three group matches. Nadal then fell at the round robin stage in 2009, the first edition held in London–after losing to Robin Soderling, Nikolay Davydenko, and Novak Djokovic–without winning a set.
The current world #2 fared much better in 2010 – the best year of his career. He beat Andy Roddick, Djokovic and Tomas Berdych to reach the semifinals, where he edged Andy Murray 7-6(5) 3-6 7-6(6) in an epic contest. Nadal then lost in the final to Federer 3-6 6-3 1-6.
In 2011, he failed to make the knockout stage following defeats to Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after beating Mardy Fish. Two years later, Nadal defeated David Ferrer, Stan Wawrinka and Berdych to progress to the last four. There, he beat Federer 7-5, 6-3 – Nadal’s only triumph over his great rival at the ATP Finals to date. The Spaniard then fell to Djokovic 3-6, 4-6 in his second final.
In 2015, Nadal won his three round robin matches against Wawrinka, Murray and Ferrer. In the semifinals, Nadal was defeated 3-6, 3-6 by Djokovic. Nadal then had to wait until 2019 to complete an ATP Finals campaign again. Tight three-set wins against Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas were not enough to see Nadal progress past the round robin stage after he lost his opening match to Alexander Zverev – who he finished level on points with but below on head-to-head.
Nadal’s 18-14 (56%) record from his nine appearances at the year-end championships is by far his worst career win ratio at an event of Masters 1000-level or higher. At the Paris Masters–the other major indoor hard court event–he has a much stronger record of 22-6 (81%). A likely reason for this is the courts at the O2 Arena, where seven of Nadal’s ATP Finals appearances have taken place, tend to be quicker and lower-bouncing than the Paris Bercy courts. The fact that all ATP Finals matches are against top-eight players is another factor.
Could 2020 be his year?
Nadal appears to be in his best physical condition and form going into an ATP Finals since the 2013 edition. To win, he will likely need to beat Djokovic on hard courts for the first time since 2013. Djokovic, however, has not found his best level since the tour restarted. The world #1 also won the last of his five ATP Finals titles in 2015.
Nadal has been drawn in Group London 2020 alongside Dominic Thiem, Tsitsipas, and Andrey Rublev. While it is a tough group, he has avoided Zverev – who he is 0-2 against on indoor hard. The absence of six-time champion Federer, who is 5-1 against Nadal on indoor hard, could also benefit the Spaniard.
Main Photo from Getty.