An Opportunity Lost: The Gospel According To Rafa

WASHINGTON/LONDON, November 22, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Not long after second seed Rafael Nadal failed in his quest to reach the championship round of the Nitto ATP Finals, losing to No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3, in the semifinals Saturday night at The O2 Arena, the World No. 2 faced the virtual media. The 34-year-old Spaniard had a lot to say – he’s never at a loss for words, win or lose – and the media listened attentively.

Here’s a sampling of what the 20-time Grand Slam champion had to say:

• “I think at the beginning of the match he was better than me. I was able to save my serves with troubles, but then I played well to have the break and then to close the set.”

• “In the second, a little bit the same story at the beginning, but at the end of the set I was playing a little bit better than him. And then in the 5-4, I think he played a good game and I didn’t. I played a bad game. That’s it. But I had a big opportunity. I lost a big opportunity.”

• “I think I achieve enough to not find an excuse about the pressure. I know I won enough matches and enough tournaments in an even more difficult situation than this one. So, I don’t feel that way.”

• “I feel I played a bad game. Of course, you are nervous to win the match. But not [only] me, everybody. [It] is normal to have the tension. I think he played some good points and I made a couple of mistakes.”

• “Small details make a big difference. Just well donefor him and not enough good for me.”

• “My goal is always the same: to go to every tournament and to give myself a chance to compete well and to try to win it.”

• “That’s the goal of every year. My motivation [has] been always the same. Next year is going to be an important year. I hope to be ready to fight for the things that I want to fight [for]. I’m going to work hard during the off-season to be ready for the beginning.”

Nadal finished his 2020 season with a 27-7 win-loss record and won titles at Acapulco and Roland Garros.

Melzer hopes to go out a champion

When Jurgen Melzer of Austria and Edouard Roger-Vasselin turned around a 7-1 match tiebreak deficit into an 11-9 comeback, which competed their 6-7 (4), 6-3, 11-9 semifinal victory over No. 2 seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, not only did it knock the American/British duo from garnering a year-end No. 1 ranking, it meant that veteran Austrian/French pair, seeded seventh this week in London, would play in Sunday’s final. They will face fifth No. 5 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic from Croatia.

For the 39-year-old left-handed Melzer, whose reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 8 in 2011 and No. 6 in doubles in 2010 – and who has won 17 career doubles titles with nine different partners – retirement is on the horizon. It’s understandable since the Vienna native turned pro all the way back in 1999. His career highlights include: winning the 2010 men’s doubles championship with Philipp Petzschner, the 2011 US Open crown with Petzschner and the 2010 ATP Masters 1000 Shanghai title with Leander Paes.

After Saturday’s semifinal victory, Melzer said, “I try to enjoy it as much as I can because tomorrow is my last match as a real, professional tennis player. It is kind of sad, but it is a great story to end with. Being in the final of the Nitto ATP Finals is just amazing. I would not have dreamt of [this] if you would have told me after the US Open that we are going to be here at the end of the year. I [will] try to enjoy it as much as I can, soak it all up, soak it all and that’s me tomorrow.”

Melzer’s teammate, the 36-year-old Roger-Vasselin, said: “We are just so happy to be in the final. We lost the first match in the round robin, so after that we were like, ‘Okay, we have nothing else to lose. We will just fight until the last point.’ That is what we are going to do tomorrow, fight from the first until the last point no matter what.”

Melzer and Vasselin are seeking their second ATP Tour doubles title as a team after winning earlier this season in St. Petersburg, while Koolhof and Mektic have yet to win an ATP Tour doubles title together. Koolhof and Mektic would be the first team to win their first tour-level title at the Nitto ATP Finals.

Medvedev’s first encounter with Thiem a memorable one

Following Daniil Medvedev‘s three-set victory over Rafael Nadal, which lifted him into Sunday’s singles championship against Dominic Thiem, the 24-year-old Russian recalled during his virtual press conference the first encounter he shared with the 27-year-old Austrian. It was back when they were both juniors.

Medvedev was only 14, the last to qualify for a tournament in Umag, Croatia, while Thiem was the reigning boys’ junior champion at Roland Garros.

As Medvedev recalled: “He destroyed me 2 and 0, I think. I think maybe made a ‘tweeter winner if I’m not mistaken. Actually [I] lost the memory of this match, and he [reminded] me [of it] in some interview one time about it. … I had [a] crazy attitude on the court [then], like 10 times worse than right now. He told me after the match, ‘You’re going to have a good future maybe, but you need to be a little bit more calm.’ Because I was going crazy.”

Regardless of who wins Sunday evening’s final, the victor will be a first-time Nitto ATP Finals champion and it will mark the sixth consecutive year with a different titlist.

Djokovic looking forward to 2021

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic won four consecutive Nitto ATP Finals titles between 2012-15, all at The O2 Arena in London. This year, the top seed was looking to win his sixth, which would have tied him with Roger Federer for first all-time. However, after his 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5) loss to No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem, Djokovic suggested during his virtual post-match interview session that he was already looking forward to next season. Next year, the Nitto ATP Finals moves to its new location in Turin, Italy.

“I’m not relieved [that the season is over]. … It’s just disappointing to finish the season with a loss like this,” he said.“But at the same time, I enjoy competitive, I enjoy traveling and I enjoy doing what I love. Let’s see what 2021 brings.”