Defending champion Alexander Zverev reached the last four at the ATP Finals with a 6-4 7-6(4) defeat of Russian debutant Daniil Medvedev and consigned Rafael Nadal to an early exit at the same time.
The 22-year-old German served superbly throughout and held his nerve in the second-set tiebreak to notch a second group victory to claim second spot ahead of world No.1 Nadal.
Spaniard Nadal had earlier beaten group winner Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7(4) 6-4 7-5 in a near three-hour battle to keep his hopes alive, but needed Medvedev to do him a favour by beating Zverev.
Medvedev, 23, dropped his opening service game and never made much of an impression on his opponent’s serve.
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He double-faulted at 3-4 in the tiebreak to give Zverev a two-point lead and Zverev finished it off with an ace.
While it was a great night for Zverev it was disappointing for those who had hoped to see a Nadal versus Roger Federer semifinal.
Greek debutant Tsitsipas will face six-time champion Federer while Zverev will face Austrian Dominic Thiem.
Nadal was presented on court with a trophy at the O2 Arena after he beat Tsitsipas in his final round-robin match.
It’s the fifth time he finishes the year as No. 1, and enough to make sure he leaves London with a feeling of satisfaction despite the early exit.
“Having this with me is something unexpected and very emotional for me,” Nadal said.
“Honestly, after all the things that I went through in my career in terms of injuries, I never thought that at the age of 33 I would have this trophy in my hands again.”
Nadal tied with Djokovic, Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors with five year-end No.1s, one behind Pete Sampras’ record.
Djokovic’s chances to overtake Nadal and equal Sampras’ mark ended when he lost to Federer on Thursday and was eliminated.
At 33, Nadal is the oldest man to top the season’s final ranking list. What’s even more remarkable is that this one came 11 years after he first finished as No.1 in 2008 – a record-long gap.
“To have this trophy with me with this big gap between the first time until today, 11 years, is a big thing,” Nadal said.
“I don’t know if somebody did it or not, but it is something difficult, because 11 years since the first time until the fifth is a big number.”
Nadal also has two more Grand Slam titles to look back on this year, the French Open and U.S. Open, bringing his total to 19.
However he has never won the ATP Finals despite qualifying for a 15th year in a row.
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