Rafael Nadal will finish 2013 as the top-ranked men’s tennis player after beating Stanislas Wawrinka to secure a semifinal spot at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Nadal won 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (8-6) at the O2 arena in London yesterday to become the first of the eight players at the season-ending event to qualify for the final four. The victory also ensured Nadal cannot be caught by world No. 2 Novak Djokovic atop the rankings.
It will be the third time Nadal, who missed parts of the last few seasons because of injuries including a partially torn patella tendon and knee inflammation, has finished the year as No. 1. He needed two wins in London to keep the top ranking he took from Serbia’s Djokovic last month.
It was “one of the best things that I did in my career: come back to the No. 1 after three seasons,” said Nadal, 27. “That’s very difficult in our sport, and after a very important injury. That’s an emotional thing for me. In the same time, to be able to qualify for the semifinals is an extra thing.”
Top-seeded Nadal, who has never won the ATP’s Tour Finals, arrived in London with a career-best record of 71-6 for the season. His 10 tournament victories this year include Grand Slam titles at the French and U.S. opens that lifted his tally of majors to 13, four behind Roger Federer’s career record.
Nadal secured his second win in 24 hours yesterday after beating fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in his round-robin opener. After losing all previous 24 sets against Nadal, Wawrinka twice got close to snapping the streak.
Nadal took the lead and served for the first set before Wawrinka broke for 5-5 and forced the tiebreaker. Nadal went 3-1 up in the second set, then Wawrinka won three straight games before the rest of the set went with serve to set up another tiebreaker. Nadal saved a set point with a smash before clinching the win.
“I had the feeling that I couldn’t change the match, I couldn’t change the score,” said Wawrinka, the No. 7 seed from Switzerland. “I was playing the right tennis, but maybe did a few mistakes in the important points.”
The last time Nadal played at the ATP Tour Finals, in 2011, he lost twice in the round-robin stage and failed to advance. His best performance was in 2010, when he lost the final to record six-time winner Federer.
“I am very far away from winning this title,” Nadal told reporters. “Winning two matches already is a very positive thing for me. But, seriously, even if I am in semifinals, on this surface, I am not the favorite. I know that.”
In last night’s Group A singles match, fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic defeated Ferrer 6-4, 6-4 to keep alive his chances of qualifying for the semifinals. The two players with the best results from each group advance.
Berdych next faces Nadal tomorrow, when Wawrinka meets Ferrer. In today’s Group B matches, tournament favorite Djokovic takes on Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro and Federer of Switzerland plays Frenchman Richard Gasquet.