Rafael Nadal has been eliminated at the group stage of the ATP Finals in Turin and his 19-year-old compatriot Carlos Alcaraz confirmed as the youngest season-ending world number one.
Nadal’s hopes of reaching the semi-finals were all but ended with a straight-sets loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime on Tuesday, and Casper Ruud’s later win over Taylor Fritz confirmed the Spaniard’s fate.
Nadal began the week with a chance of finishing the year ranked world number one but he suffered an opening loss to Fritz before his 6-3 6-4 loss to the Canadian.
Ruud’s 6-3 4-6 7-6 (6) win over Fritz confirmed Nadal’s fate, sending the Norwegian through as winner of the Green Group with Fritz and Auger-Aliassime to face each other for the runner-up spot.
“When you are facing all the circumstances that I faced the last six months, to be here is positive,” said Nadal, who has struggled with injury and recently became a father for the first time.
“To experience what’s going on is not a big surprise. That does not mean that I am not sad about the results. It’s something that can happen.
“I just accept that tomorrow I start my 2023 season. That’s all. The only thing that I can do is keep working, keep doing the things that I need to do to give myself a chance to start with real chances in 2023.
“I don’t think I forget how to play tennis, how to be strong enough mentally. I just need to recover all these positive feelings and all this confidence and all this strong mentality that I need to be at the level that I want to be.”
There was the jarring sight of Toni Nadal, the guiding hand in his nephew’s career for so long, sitting in Auger-Aliassime’s box, with the young Canadian currently under his tutelage.
It was Nadal who threatened a break in the early stages but the 22-time grand slam champion then faltered in the eighth game, throwing in more of the errors that marred his performance against Fritz.
Auger-Aliassime, who lost to Ruud on his debut on Sunday, moved ahead again early in the second set and produced a strong serving display to boost his hopes of reaching the last four.
Having won the Australian Open and French Open in the same year for the first time, Nadal’s 2022 season is now ending with a whimper, and he must try to avoid a fifth successive loss when he takes on Ruud on Thursday.
Alcaraz is the first teenager to finish the year as world number one, and beats the record set by Lleyton Hewitt who was 20 when he achieved the feat in 2001.
Novak Djokovic booked his place in the last four of the ATP Finals with a crushing 6-4 6-1 defeat of Russian Andrey Rublev on Wednesday.
After the first nine games went with serve, Djokovic switched on the afterburners to outclass Rublev.
Rublev, who like Djokovic had won his opening match at the year-ender, capitulated when serving to stay in the opener, losing the set as Djokovic thumped a backhand return winner.
The second set was a non-event as five-time champion Djokovic roared to victory in little more than an hour.
“I played one of my best matches of the year,” Djokovic, who was watched for the first time by both his children Stefan and Tara,” said on court. “I found the right attitude and the right game and once I won the first set his energy went down.
“In the second set I just wanted to use that momentum and it was a flawless second set.”
Despite being guaranteed a place in the weekend’s semi-finals when Djokovic will hope to equal Roger Federer’s title record at the ATP’s season-ender, the 35-year-old Serb said he will not be relaxing against Medvedev on Friday.
“It won’t just be a stroll in the park,” he said. “Knowing I’m in the semis it’s a great boost but at the same time I want to focus on every match.”
If 21-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic wins the title this week he will be the oldest player ever to do so.