Rafael Nadal rounded off his ATP Finals campaign and 2022 season with a flourish on Thursday.
The Spaniard downed Casper Ruud 7-5, 7-5 at the prestigious season finale in Turin but it wasn’t enough to see him through to the last four.
The 92-time tour-level champion would be delighted to have raised his level in his third round-robin match in Green Group.
Nadal used the fast conditions to his advantage with some trademark clean ball-striking.
The record-setting Spaniard hit 37 winners to Ruud’s 19 and won 93 per cent (38/41) of points behind his first serve to seal a one-hour, 43-minute victory and round out his 2022 season on a winning note.
“I have been practising well,” Nadal said as he finally tasted victory again following his US Open exit in September.
“Just probably not enough matches to be at the level that I needed to be. Not enough confidence, probably, after six tough months. That’s how it is. I accept that the season didn’t end the way that I wanted, [but] at least I finished with a positive victory.
“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.”
Although he broke his losing streak at this year’s season-ending tournament, his wait for first ATP Finals title continues.
The 36-year-old, though, had plenty of positives this year as he ended 2022 with a 39-8 tour-level record, winning the Australian Open and French Open.
“I can’t ask for more,” the Spaniard said. “2022 has had a tough six months, two Grand Slams, and finishing the year in a high spot in the rankings. So, I can’t complain at all. At my age, to be able to achieve and be competitive means a lot for me.
“For 2023, just let’s try to have the right preparation, work the proper way and start the season with the right energy, the right attitude, to reach the level that I need to be competitive from the beginning. Let’s try it, I am excited about it.”
Nadal had to find a way to live with considerable pressure in the first set against Ruud.
The Norweigian carved out the first two break points of the match at 4-4.
However, The Spaniard’s precise serving helped him recover to hold and he then broke to love to take the opener to the delight of the vocal Pala Alpitour crowd.
Nadal’s lefty forehand grew increasingly influential in the second set, although Nadal had to stay patient again as Ruud demonstrated the resilience that saw him claim victories against Felix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz in his opening two matches in Turin.
Yet the Spaniard was not to be denied. He made his move in the 12th game, crashing a cross-court backhand winner for 15/40 before completing the win.
“At the end, the personal satisfaction is more important than any title,” said Nadal, when asked about his desire to finish strongly against Ruud despite having no chance of reaching the semi-finals. “That’s how it is. If I don’t try my best, if I don’t put the best attitude in every single moment, then I will not be able to be back home and stay happy and be calm with myself.”
Despite Thursday’s defeat, Ruud progresses to the semi-finals in Turin for the second consecutive year. Joining the Norwegian in qualifying for the semi-finals from Green Group will be Auger-Aliassime or Fritz. The duo faces off in a winner-takes-all clash in Thursday’s night session at the Pala Alpitour.
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