Rafael Nadal, rejuvenated after winning his 13th French Open at 34, has committed to finishing his disjointed season in London in a fortnight’s time, if he comes through the Paris Masters unscathed this week.
If he wins at Bercy the Spaniard will be inspired to joust with Novak Djokovic for end-of-year bragging rights at the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena, scheduled to begin on 15 November.
Nadal, who has not won the indoor hardcourt WTF tournament in nine attempts, beat the five-time champion Djokovic on his favoured clay in straight sets at Roland Garros three weeks ago. The Serb has not entered Paris but his compatriot Filip Krajinovic or the Spanish veteran Feliciano López will play Nadal when he joins the final ATP 1000 event of 2020 in the second round.
After drawing alongside the absent Roger Federer on 20 grand slam titles last month, Nadal was coy about his plans, but he was smiling broadly across town in Bercy on Sunday, where he handed Denis Shapovalov a walkover in the semi-finals last year.
“I didn’t confirm after Roland Garros because my goal was to play there under my best conditions,” he said. “I didn’t make any plans [for] after that. I needed to come back home and speak with the team and my family. We made the decision together, the best schedule possible for today and for the future. We are living under unpredictable and difficult circumstances, so it is difficult to plan a lot of things. I am just trying to be flexible and adapt myself to the conditions.”
Pressed to confirm he will play at the O2 before the event moves to Turin after a lucrative decade in London, he said: “Yes. If nothing happens here, yes.”
Certainly the world No 2, rebounding well from seven months away due to the pandemic, is finishing the year in better shape than the man in front of him in the rankings. Djokovic, who won the Australian Open in February to move to 17 majors, had lost only twice in 39 completed matches before last week collapsing for the second tournament in a row.
After Nadal bagelled him on the way to winning the French Open final in three sets, the Serb collapsed again in the quarter-finals in Vienna as the world No 42 Lorenzo Sonego, a lucky loser, played the game of his life to win in 68 minutes for the loss of only three games. “He blew me off the court,” Djokovic admitted, before compounding defeat by asserting he was distracted and had achieved his goal already by securing his No 1 ranking.
The free-swinging Italian went on to beat a struggling Dan Evans in the semi-finals before giving the world No 8, Andrey Rublev, an impressiveargument in losing 6-4, 6-4 in Sunday’s final.
Evans, the resurgent British No 1 whose shoulder nagged him against Sonego, has drawn the fading three-slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the first round on Nadal’s side of the draw – and probably would have to get past Rublev and then Alexander Zverev to reach the semi-finals.
Organisers have kept Zverev away from the media after unproven allegations against him by two former girlfriends. The world No 4 will start his tournament against either the Serb Miomir Kecmanovic or the 31-year-old Australian John Millman, who won his first ATP title on Sunday by beating Adrian Mannarino 7-5, 6-1 at the Astana Open in Kazakhstan.
Djokovic, Nadal, Zverev, Rublev, Dominic Thiem, the defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev have qualified for London. Diego Schwartzman, whose absence in Vienna ushered Sonego into the draw, is well placed to complete the top eight and opens at Bercy against either Richard Gasquet or Taylor Fritz in the bottom half of the draw, where Tsitsipas is the No 2 seed.