Tennis: Fritz reaches semis, Nadal signs off with win in Turin

Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrating after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway in their group match at the ATP Finals in Turin on Nov 17. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TURIN – American Taylor Fritz outlasted Felix Auger-Aliassime in three sets and Rafael Nadal avoided matching his worst ever losing sequence with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Norway’s Casper Ruud in round-robin play at the ATP Finals on Thursday.

In a clash of tournament debutants, neither Fritz nor Auger-Aliassime could make inroads on the other’s serve but, in the first set tiebreaker, the Canadian’s normally solid backhand began to misfire and a forehand error put Fritz out ahead.

The players remained on serve in the second to bring about another breaker that Fritz appeared to have in hand while leading 4-2.

But an errant ball toss produced Fritz’s first double-fault and shifted momentum in favour of Auger-Aliassime, who pumped his fist after slapping a crosscourt winner to force a deciding set.

The key game of the match came with Fritz leading 3-2 in the third when he finally got his first looks at break points, converting his fourth opportunity when Auger-Aliassime pulled a forehand wide.

Fritz rolled from there, holding to love to consolidate the break and jumping in the air when Auger-Aliassime pushed a backhand out on match point, his 36th unforced error.

“It was tough, no one really had any chances early on,” Fritz said after his 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 win.

“I had to just not get frustrated, had to reset. I felt going into the third that a break was coming.”

Fritz will face Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals.

Australian and French Open winner Nadal had already been eliminated from semi-final contention when he walked on court in Turin after back-to-back straight-set defeats by Fritz and Auger-Aliassime in Green Group.

But the Spaniard was clearly eager not to end a season that began in such spectacular fashion by succumbing to a fifth successive defeat – something the 36-year-old had not experienced since before his career took off in 2004-05.

The first set was full of intensity inside the Pala Alpitour where the afternoon crowd were firmly behind Nadal.

Nadal fought off two break points at 4-4 in the opening set as Ruud threatened but, after that, the Mallorcan found the range on his forehand.

The 23-year-old Ruud went down 0-40 on serve at 5-6 and world No. 2 Nadal needed just one chance to seal the set, punching away a volley into an empty court.

It was a similar story in the second set with nothing between the players until Nadal pounced again in the 12th game. Ruud saved one match point, but Nadal clubbed away a backhand winner to finish his season on a high.

“I’ve been practising well, but just not had enough matches to be at the level I need to be, not enough confidence after six tough months,” Nadal said.

“At least I finished with a positive victory which is important. It’s important, the last official match of the season, so I am happy for that. At the end I am happy about that… I was able to win against a great player.”

Ruud still advanced to the semi-finals, but is now 0-8 against opponents ranked in the top three.

Nadal also took the opportunity on Thursday to welcome the decision to grant his Serbian rival Djokovic a visa which will enable him to compete at the 2023 Australian Open, describing it as “the best news possible”.

In a sensational series of events in 2022, Djokovic was detained and deported from Australia over his non-vaccinated status on Covid-19.

He was initially barred by the then-conservative government from returning to Australia until 2025, but Australia’s new immigration minister Andrew Giles said that with a significant easing in pandemic restrictions, the record nine-time champion was now welcome to return.

Nadal, who won the event in Djokovic’s absence, has a men’s record 22 individual Grand Slam titles to the Serbian’s 21, with Australia the next of the four annual Major tournaments.

“I always said the same: tennis is better when the best players are on the court,” said the Spaniard.

“Roger (Federer) is not playing any more. I missed a lot of Grand Slams for injuries. And last year Novak was not able to play there. That’s past. What’s next is Novak will be able to play again.

“That’s the best news possible, especially knowing that now Tennis: Alcaraz hails ‘great achievement’ at finishing youngest ever world No. 1

“(I’m) Happy for him. Happy for the tournament. Happy for the fans. That’s it.” REUTERS, AFP

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