Spain's Rafael Nadal returns against Austria's Dominic Thiem in their men's singles round-robin match on day three of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament. AFP/Glyn Kirk
LONDON - Rafael Nadal insisted he can still win the ATP Finals for the first time despite a damaging 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/4) defeat against Austria's Dominic Thiem on Tuesday.
Thiem overpowered Nadal behind closed doors at London's O2 Arena to put a dent in the Spanish star's bid to finally lift the one major prize missing from his packed trophy cabinet.
Thiem became the first player to qualify for the semi-finals a few hours later when reigning champion Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Russian seventh seed Andrey Rublev 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (8/6).
Nadal, who lost the 2010 and 2013 finals of the event, has to beat Tsitsipas in his last group match to reach the semi-finals of the prestigious season-ending tournament.
Despite his perilous position, Nadal goes into the showdown against Tsitsipas, with the winner guaranteed to progress to the last four, in confident mood after battling hard against the inspired Thiem.
"He played I think an amazing match, and I played well too. So my feeling is not negative. I lost, but I had plenty of chances, said Nadal, who had beaten Rublev in straight sets in his first match.
"I'm happy with the way I played. I think my chances are bigger to have a very good result now than five days ago because the level of tennis, even if I lost today, for me is much higher."
Nadal, who last month equalled Roger Federer's record of 20 Grand Slams by winning the French Open, has won 86 titles but just one of those has come on an indoor hard court.
The world number two has qualified for the ATP Finals for 16 years in a row, but his record at the eight-man elite event pales in comparison with Federer and Novak Djokovic after six injury withdrawals.