In what feels like a familiar November story, Rafael Nadal is travelling to London on Wednesday in the hope of playing in next week’s Nitto ATP Finals, despite an abdominal strain.
Nadal has qualified for the tour’s year-end party in each of the past 15 seasons. Yet his predisposition to injury means that he has participated only seven times – plus the lone match he played in 2017 before withdrawing with knee trouble. His late-season struggles help explain why he has never lifted the title.
Last year, Nadal announced his withdrawal from the tournament on November 5, revealing that he had undergone ankle surgery a few days earlier. But on Tuesday his spokesperson delivered a slightly more upbeat bulletin, telling Forbes magazine that “he is travelling there [London] with the intention to play the ATP Finals … We have to obviously wait and see every day”.
Yet Nadal has been unable to serve this week in practice, having pulled out of last week’s Paris Masters after the quarter-finals. He also withdrew from his planned second singles match at the Laver Cup in September, citing a wrist injury.
If fit, Nadal will face last year’s champion – 22-year-old Alexander Zverev – in the last of the opening series of round robin matches, to be played on Monday evening.
Before that, the afternoon match will bring together the two most exciting breakthrough players of the season – US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev and Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas. The four players are all competing in Group B, while the action in Group A begins on Sunday and features the two most successful performers at the O2 Arena. Roger Federer – who takes on Italy’s Matteo Berrettini – is the only man to have won the ATP Finals six times, while Novak Djokovic – who faces Dominic Thiem – will join him on that tally if he triumphs this year.
Meanwhile, Heather Watson admits she will gear her new season towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after reaching her first WTA Tour final in three years at the Tianjin Open.
The British No 2 rose back into the world’s top 100 following her run in China, which means she is guaranteed entry into the main draw of the Australian Open. But as she prepares to head into her pre-season training camp in Florida, she said: “The Olympics is my No 1 goal for next year.”