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Ricky’s preview and pick for Tuesday at the Nitto ATP Finals: Nadal vs. Auger-Aliassime

With 0-1 records and 0-2 in total sets, both Rafael Nadal and Felix Auger-Aliassime need a win in the worst way when they collide at the Nitto ATP Finals on Tuesday afternoon. Nadal lost his Turin opener to Taylor Fritz 7-6(3), 6-1 on Sunday night, a result that was preceded by Auger-Aliassime’s 7-6(4), 6-4 setback against Casper Ruud.

For Nadal, his lackluster performance was not much of a surprise. Because of an abdominal injury and also the birth of his first child, the 36-year-old played only one match in between the U.S. Open and his arrival in Turin (lost it to Tommy Paul at the Paris Masters). Moreover, he has never been successful at the year-end championship even when in decent form. Nadal is still trying to win it for the first time and he has not reached the final since 2013.

Auger-Aliassime’s loss was more surprising. The sixth-ranked Canadian won back-to-back-to-back tournaments (Florence, Antwerp, Basel) in the span of three weeks and then made a run to the Paris semifinals (fell to eventual champion Holger Rune). Jitters in his debut match at the Nitto ATP Finals may have been a factor, so improvement should be expected from him on Tuesday.

Although the 22-year-old is 0-2 lifetime in this head-to-head series, he has to be encouraged by his most recent effort against Nadal. At the French Open this spring, Auger-Aliassime pushed the Spaniard to five sets before losing a high-quality thriller 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

After both players underwhelmed in their Turin openers, Auger-Aliassime has a better chance of getting back on track in time to save his tournament. He is playing with more confidence in general and the relatively fast surface should help him. If the rest of his game isn’t working, Auger-Aliassime wields a serve that can win him a ton of free points (14 aces, 84 percent of first-serve points won against Ruud). Nadal–with the way he is serving right now–does not have that luxury.

Starting fast will be crucial in this contest, so a straight-setter seems likely either way. In all likelihood it will be Auger-Aliassime who seizes the upper hand early and keeps it.

Pick: Auger-Aliassime in 2

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