November 15, 2019
You have to hand it to Rafael Nadal. He doesn’t know when to quit.
He knew his progress in London would still depend on the match between Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev later on.
But the Spaniard has certainly left his mark on the tournament with two magnificent comebacks.
And after this victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas, he was presented with the ATP 2019 Tour Number One trophy.
Rafa achieved this comeback 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 7-5. Fists clenched above his head, Nadal celebrated his own refusal to be dominated – and rightly so.
Soon the massive cup was high above his head too.
It wouldn’t have looked right to be given the world number one silverware after a defeat. Rafa didn’t let that happen.
A satisfied Nadal smiled and said: ‘What can I say now? I’m super-happy. After all the injuries I never thought at the age of thirty-three-and-a-half to have this trophy in my hands again. It is very heavy.’
He couldn’t make light work of the improving Tsitsipas either. But the man who never gives up did again.
Just when it looked like he was being outgunned. Just when the tank looked empty. Nadal still found a way to prevail.
Incredible, wristy forehands to unpick the formidable Tsitsipas serve when it mattered.
Nadal was already assured of the year-end world number one spot.
That happy knowledge had come courtesy of Roger Federer’s magnificent performance against Novak Djokovic the previous night.
In that sense, Rafa didn’t need to progress further in London. His main mission had been accomplished.
But Nadal doesn’t think like that. He always plays with pride. And he showed plenty once more.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Stefanos had already qualified for the semi-finals. Therefore he was also supposed to be less motivated than he might otherwise have been.
Perhaps he was more relaxed to start with. But you could tell Tsitsipas desperately wanted to win too.
Stefanos had certainly looked more comfortable in the first set. He was rarely threatened and always seemed to have the edge in the tie-break.
Nadal couldn’t find the inner fire as Tsitsipas eased clear with that big-serving platform to take the breaker.
Stefanos has filled out physically in the last year and generates plenty of power from those broad shoulders.
But was the Greek strong enough mentally to withstand the comeback he surely knew would be coming from the famous fighting Spaniard?
Rafa raised his game. His second-set service break was inevitable eventually.
Nadal had earned himself two break points at 2-2. And another at 3-3. When the chance came again 4-4, he took it.
Or rather Tsitsipas blazed a forehand wide after finally feeling the pressure.
That ended a run of thirty successive holds for Stef at these finals.
Nadal was determined to press home his advantage. He drew level with the younger man on his second set point and stole the momentum.
Tsitsipas managed to hang in there despite further assaults on his service games in the deciding set.
And he was never more self-assured than when he held to go 5-4 and forced Nadal to serve to stay in the tournament.
In the ultimate battle of nerve and desire, however, it was Nadal who emerged the clear winner.
Whether he was going to get to play Federer the following day was out of his hands. That scenario would depend on Medvedev beating Zverev in the evening match.
But as Rafa told an adoring crowd, he had done all he could.