In just his second match in the space of 10 weeks, Rafael Nadal was defeated by the inspired debutant Taylor Fritz on Sunday at the Nitto ATP Finals. Yet there was no sign of panic from the Spaniard despite his opening loss at the Pala Alpitour, where he believes one crucial factor cost him dearly in the Green Group clash.
“It’s about time,” said Nadal at his post-match press conference. “Tennis and the sport in general, it’s about time. I have less time than him to do what I want to do on the ball. I felt that everything was going so fast. When that happens, normally you are under stress, and you don’t have the time to play the kind of shot that you want.”
Since reaching the fourth round of the US Open while struggling with an abdominal tear in September, Nadal’s sole tour-level singles outing was a three-set defeat to Tommy Paul at the Rolex Paris Masters 11 days ago. The 36-year-old acknowledged the difficulties of taking on high-class opponents immediately after an injury lay-off.
“In most of the points of the match, I was in a defensive position, and he was in an offensive position,” said Nadal. “That’s what happened… But every single time I came back from injury, [it’s not normal] playing against top players [from] the first day. That’s what’s happens when you are coming back playing Masters 1000s and [the Nitto ATP Finals].”
Nadal was full of praise for Fritz, the first American singles player to compete at the season finale since John Isner in 2018. The 25-year-old showed few signs of nerves as his clean hitting pulled Nadal effectively around the court throughout the pair’s round-robin clash.
“We can find different ways to explain what happened, at the end [of the day], Fritz played very well,” said Nadal. “I was not able to handle his power. It’s obvious that in this kind of surface, you need to play very well. You don’t have time to think for a tactic… There is no time. The things are going so quick.
“Serving like Fritz served, then you are under pressure all the time. When somebody is serving that way, on the return he is going for every shot. [It was] just well played from him, not enough from me.”
Nadal is chasing his maiden Nitto ATP Finals title this week, and despite his opening defeat the Spaniard remains in contention for the coveted year-end No. 1 spot in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Nadal must now win the title in Turin to pip Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the race for World No. 1, but first he turns his attention to his next Green Group opponent, Felix Auger-Aliassime.
The Canadian also fell to an opening loss on Sunday against Casper Ruud, and Nadal is aware that his semi-final qualification hopes are hanging in the balance as he prepares for his third ATP Head2Head meeting with Auger-Aliassime.
“It’s a match like a normal tournament already, because the loser will go out of the tournament normally,” said Nadal. “[I] just accept that I need to do better things. I hope to be ready to make that happen. He finished the season playing unbelievable, winning [three] tournaments in a row, playing so well. [It is] another big challenge.”