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Tennis • Defending Champion Zverev Downs Rafa Nadal, Spaniard Vows To Continue Fighting in London

By Ricky Dimon

Hey, it could be worse for Rafael Nadal.

At the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals, Nadal suffered an upset loss to David Goffin in his first round-robin match and then promptly withdrew from the tournament. Nadal lost his opener again on Monday night in London, falling to Alexander Zverev 6-2, 6-4.

This time around, though, Nadal vows to put aside injury concerns and continue battling.

In what would have been a difficult test even for a fully fit Nadal, Zverev rolled to an alarmingly routine win in one hour and 24 minutes. The 22-year-old served at 88 percent and fired 11 aces while double-faulting only twice.

Given that Nadal had withdrawn prior to a semifinal match at the BNP Paribas Masters two weeks ago because of an abdominal problem, there were fears that his subpar performance on Monday would result in an immediate exit from London–just like two years ago.

“I am off; my season is finished,” Nadal said while dealing with a knee injury at the time. “Merry Christmas, everyone.”

This time around, however, it is not Christmas time in early November for the Spaniard. He assured following the loss to Zverev that he is physically 100 percent and confident in his ability to finish off the season inside the O2 Arena and then at the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid.

“It was not a problem with the abdominal at all,” Nadal stated. “I did not feel pain in the abdominal at all. No, just Sascha…well played. And me…bad played, honestly. We can find reasons or excuses, but at the end of the day what really matters is I need to play much better in two days. That’s the only thing. We knew that going to be tough at beginning because the period of time since the injury until today is very short, but we are here trying. I (will) stay positive; I (will) stay competitive–something that today I was not.

“We had to do the things step by step, step by step, being very [precautious] in all the movements that we have been doing since last Saturday. And today I’m fine. So the physical issue was not an excuse at all. The only excuse is I was not good enough tonight.”

No one was good enough for Zverev last year in London. Although Djokovic defeated the German in round-robin play, the German avenged that loss when it mattered most with a 6-4, 6-3 triumph in the final. He also upset Roger Federer 7-5, 7-6(5) in the semis.

Zverev certainly played like the defending champion on Monday. He surrendered only 12 points on serve in the entire match, including just four in the opening set and a mere four in total on his first serve. Time and again he came up with stunning forehands from difficult positions, most notably with an on-the-run winner at 4-3, 30-30 in set two.

“I’m super happy, obviously,” Zverev commented. “It was a great night for me, especially (with) me struggling the whole year. Obviously I’m still the defending champion coming back here. When I’m here, I want to use the opportunity as much as I can and do the best as I can. Today was definitely a great match.”

It may be true that Nadal is not–and has never been–at his best in London. But it’s also true that Zverev played outstanding tennis from start to to finish.

When asked if he noticed anything about his opponent’s physical condition, the world No. 7 said with a smile, “I did play pretty well.”

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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