Rafael Nadal may be heading home but he made sure he avoided matching his worst ever losing sequence with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Norway’s Casper Ruud at the ATP Finals on Thursday.
Back-to-back straight sets defeats in the Green Group by Taylor Fritz and Felix Auger-Aliassime meant the 22-time Grand slam champion missed out on the semifinals.
But the Spaniard was clearly eager not to end a season that began in such spectacular fashion by succumbing to a fifth successive defeat -- something the 36-year-old had not experienced since before his career took off in 2004-05.
With world number four Ruud already assured of a semifinal berth the match was in reality a dead rubber.
Even so the first set was full of intensity inside the Pala Alpitour where the afternoon crowd were firmly behind Nadal.
Nadal fought off a couple of break points at 4-4 in the opening set as Ruud threatened but after that the Mallorcan found the range on his forehand.
The 23-year-old Ruud went down 0-40 on serve at 5-6 and world number two Nadal needed just one chance to seal the set, punching away a volley into an empty court.
It was a similar story in the second set with nothing between the players until Nadal pounced again in the 12th game.
Ruud saved one match point but Nadal then clubbed away a backhand winner to finish his season on a high.
“I’ve been practising well but just not had enough matches to be at the level I need to be, not enough confidence after six tough months,” Nadal said on court.
“At least I finished with a positive victory which is important.”
Ruud will go on to the semifinals but is now 0-8 against opponents ranked in the top three.
Taylor Fritz advanced to the final four by beating Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-2.
The American will face five-time champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
The match went with serve until the final set when Fritz broke twice in the final three games, either side of holding to love, sealing his spot in the next round on the first of two match points as fellow tournament debutant Auger-Aliassime sent a backhand wide.
Prior to the sixth game of the final set, the only other break points had come in the second game of the second set when Fritz had to stave off three of them against his Canadian opponent.
(With inputs from AP)