London, Nov 21 (EFE).- Rafael Nadal looked poised to reach the ATP Finals championship as he served for the match against Daniil Medvedev in Saturday’s second semifinal, but the Russian battled back to win 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3, forcing the Spaniard to wait at least another year for the only significant title that continues to elude him.
It was the 24-year-old Russian’s first win in four contests with Nadal, who has 20 major titles to his credit and is currently ranked second in the world.
And while Nadal, 34, entered the match as the favorite, Medvedev showed how big a threat he could be when he beat world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Friday in the final round-robin match.
The sports world was looking forward to seeing Djokovic and Nadal square off in Sunday’s final, instead Medvedev will contend with Austria’s Dominic Thiem, who bested the Serb in the first semifinal.
Nadal prevailed 6-3 in the first set without too much trouble, but found himself down 1-4 in the second before taking the next four games to put himself in position to finish the match.
The towering Russian broke his opponent’s serve before going on to prevail in the tie-break. After faltering on a chance to break Nadal in the first game of the third set, he converted two subsequent break points to set up the showdown with Thiem, the world No. 3.
“I felt really strange till 5-4 for him in the second set. I felt like I was doing great shots, but I couldn’t return, make a good shot in the important moments,” Medvedev said afterwards.
“I decided to change some small things, going for it a little bit more. I felt like I had chances to win before, some games, a set maybe, but it didn’t work. So I had to change it and it worked really well. I’m happy about it,” he said.
Nadal was critical of his own performance.
“I feel I played a bad game. Of course you are nervous to win the match,” the Spaniard said. “Is normal to have the tension. I think he played some good points and I make a couple of mistakes.
“And that’s it, and then he played a good tie-break. I should be winning my serve in the third, the one that I lost. I had easy volley to close the game. Small details makes a big difference. Just well done for him and not enough good for me,” the 2020 French Open champion said.
In the earlier match, Thiem overcame squandering four match points in the second set to win the third in a tie-break and deny Djokovic a chance to play for a sixth ATP Finals title.
The 27-year-old Austrian is headed to the championship match at London’s O2 Arena for the second straight year after besting the Serb 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5).
For Djokovic, 33, it marks a fifth year in succession when he has failed to equal Swiss great Roger Federer’s mark of six ATP Finals crowns.
Having claimed his first major title with a triumph at the US Open, Thiem showed on Saturday that he has the mindset he needs to win big matches.
Djokovic came into the semifinal leading the head-to-head series with Thiem by seven matches to four, including their last previous contest, a five-set battle at this year’s Australian Open final.
What was billed as a clash of the titans did not disappoint.
At one point, the Serbian even applauded a particularly impressive shot by his opponent, though Djokovic’s mood darkened when Thiem broke his serve to go up 6-5 before taking the first set 7-5 with an ace.
Djokovic had Thiem against the ropes at 3-4 and 5-6 in the second set. The Austrian served his way out of trouble and forced a tie-break, but then failed to convert four match points, allowing Djokovic to level the clash at a set apiece.
The third set also went to a tie-break and Djokovic took a 4-0 led before Thiem came storming back to win six straight points and secure his spot in the championship round.