Spain's Rafael Nadal returns against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas in their men's singles round-robin match on day five of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament. AFP/Glyn Kirk
LONDON - Rafael Nadal kept alive his hopes of a first ATP Finals title on Thursday, beating defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in London to qualify for the last four.
The Spaniard, whose haul of 86 singles titles includes just one on indoor hard courts, is chasing the biggest prize missing from his resume at the eight-man elite event.
The 34-year-old has qualified for the ATP Finals for a record 16 consecutive years but has been forced to withdraw on six occasions.
The second seed won his opening round-robin match against Andrey Rublev but defeat against Dominic Thiem meant he faced a shootout against 2019 champion Tsitsipas to reach the semi-finals.
Both players were rock solid on serve until Nadal earned the first two breakpoints of the set in the seventh game, which he failed to convert.
Tsitsipas was again under pressure in his next service game and this time he cracked, double-faulting on breakpoint.
Nadal pressed home his advantage, serving consecutive aces to take the set 6-4 against his 22-year-old opponent.
The match took a bizarre twist at the start of the decider, with neither player able to hold serve until Nadal finally held to lead 3-1.
An over-hit forehand from Tsitsipas handed Nadal another break and he served out to take the match and set up a semi-final against Daniil Medvedev as he bids to round off the coronavirus-interrupted season in style.
"In general terms a very positive match for me," said Nadal. "To be in the semi-finals here at the last tournament of the year is an important thing. Happy for that and looking forward to the semi-finals against Daniil."
He added: "It's always difficult to play here against the best players of the world every single day, end of the season and most of the time you get here a little bit tired but this year is a little bit different."