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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, November 15, 2022


Felix Auger-Aliassime beat Rafael Nadal for the first time, 6-3, 6-4, handing the king of clay his fourth straight loss at the ATP Finals in Turin.

Photo credit: Marco Bertorello/Getty

Staring into the face of his Babolat racquet, Rafael Nadal looked like a man searching for solutions.

The top seed tried to problem-solve, but Felix Auger-Aliassime had all the answers.

More: Fritz Stuns Nadal

Riding an imposing first serve, Auger-Aliassime swept Nadal 6-3, 6-4 scoring his first win over the king of clay at the ATP Finals in Turin.

In his ATP Finals debut, Auger-Aliassime rocketed 15 aces, permitted just nine points on first serve and saved all five break points he faced in a confident performance.

The youngest man in the Turin field raised his 2022 record to 57-26.

“I think having one match here, I got used to the conditions on center court,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It helped me a lot. I felt my game was better today. My serve was great and return and backhand was much better. I was hitting it with my more consistency and quality.

"When I am playing like this, I have proven I can compete and beat some of the best players in the world.”

Toni Nadal, Rafa Nadal's uncle and original coach who has been a part of Auger-Aliassime's coaching team since the spring, was in the Canadian's corner for this match. Toni Nadal watched his nephew's five-set Roland Garros win over Auger-Aliassime from a neutral spot, but today he was in the Basel champion's box and had to like what he saw.

The fifth-seeded Canadian raised his indoor record to an ATP-best 28-6 and has now beaten all three iconic Big 3 champions following his Laver Cup win over Novak Djokovic last September.

The 36-year-old Spaniard suffered his fourth straight loss nullifying Nadal's hopes of winning a maiden ATP Finals championship and surpassing compatriot Carlos Alcaraz for the year-end world No. 1.

"[I was] not able to take any of my chances. I lost, yeah, a terrible game on the 4-3," Nadal said. "I fight till the end, but when the things are going that way, is difficult to change the dynamic and the result, especially under these circumstances.

"With this surface, playing against big servers, great players, yeah, nothing to complain, just to accept that it's what we have today: opponent in another situation playing better the key points."

Though the defeat does not mathematically eliminate Nadal from reaching Saturday's semifinals, it drops him to 0-2 in Green Group of round-robin play with his final match looming against frequent practice partner Casper Ruud, who beat Auger-Aliassime in Sunday's opener.

Nadal's loss, followed by Ruud winning the opening set against Taylor Fritz in tonight's second Red Group round-robin match, ensured 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz will conclude the season as the youngest-ever ATP year-end world No. 1. 

The reigning Roland Garros and Australian Open champion was philosophical afterward. 

"But my body, my age, my personal situation don't allow me to follow that goal any more, no?" Nadal said. "Winning two slams was not enough. Of course, was not enough because I was not able to play. I don't know how many tournaments I played, 10, 11, maybe 12. Finished maybe nine, 10, in good conditions.

"It's difficult comparing and fighting against the young guys that they are super good, and at the same time they are able to play as many tournaments as they want, no? Is normal they are in the situation I was, like, 15 years ago. Just well done for Carlos in this case. Happy for him."

A milestone season that has seen Nadal become a first-time father, win two of the four Grand Slams, rise to Grand Slam king collecting his 22nd major crown and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with rival Roger Federer in the Swiss superstar's farewell doubles match has hit the skids a bit with a fall swoon.

Nadal suffered his fourth consecutive loss—all four defeats coming against North American opponents—the first time since 2009 the king of clay has suffered a four-match losing streak. Six of Nadal's eight losses this season have come against North American opponents—Taylor Fritz in the Indian Wells final and Turin, Denis Shapovalov in Rome, Frances Tiafoe  in the US Open fourth round, Tommy Paul at the Rolex Paris Masters and Auger-Aliassime today.

A combination of Auger-Aliassime's aggression, the low-bouncing quick court that diminishes the bounce of the left-hander's tremendous topspin, lack of confidence from recent inactivity and two uncharacteristically horrid service games all conspired to Nadal's loss today.

Contesting his 11th ATP Finals, Nadal didn't get a sniff of breaking Taylor Fritz's serve in his 7-6(3), 6-1 round-robin loss to the Indian Wells champion on Sunday.

Aiming to make an early impression, Nadal earned a couple of break points in the opening game today. The top seed netted a forehand pass on one of the break points.

Tennis Express

Auger-Aliassime tamed trouble then lashed an ace and serve winner to hold.

The forehand down the line is typically a barometer of Nadal's confidence. The reigning Roland Garros champion cracked a forehand winner down the line to level after four games.

The second Canadian to contest the ATP Finals hit a double fault and botched a pair of volleys to face double break point in the seventh game. On a second serve, Auger-Aliassime erased the first break point with a forehand winner down the line. Auger-Aliassime fired a forehand down the opposite sideline to save the second.

Hit with a time violation warning by chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani, Auger-Aliassime answered with successive aces—his sixth and seventh of the match—holding for 4-3.

Playing just his fifth tournament since he won a record-extending 14th Roland Garros crown, Nadal showed rust blowing a 40-love lead in an eighth game collapse that came out of nowhere.

The Spaniard tried slogging through a sloppy eighth game, but betrayed his cause with consecutive double faults and a netted drive. Auger-Aliassime rapped a forehand winner for another break point. Again, Nadal could not find his first serve and the Canadian made him pay, eliciting a floated forehand to break for 5-3.

Auger-Aliassime served out the first set at 15. The ATP Finals debutant won 18 of 19 first-serve points and saved all four break points he faced in the 53-minute opener.

Meanwhile, Nadal had more break-point chances and permitted just three points in his first three serve games, but sealed his fate with that horror-show eighth game when he handed Auger-Aliassime the break.

The rhythm of repetition Nadal craves was lacking today. Nadal coughed up his fourth double fault and committed a couple of netted errors to face break point in the third game of set two. Auger-Aliassime had a good look at a backhand down the line but mis-hit it wide.

Punishing a Nadal second serve, Auger-Aliassime smacked a backhand down the opposite sideline for a second break point. Nadal tried the surprise serve-and-volley but stumbled near the service line and pushed his lunging forehand volley long. Auger-Aliassime had his second break for a 2-1 lead with a big assist from Nadal on both breaks.

The fifth seed confirmed the break for 3-1.

Ninety-six minutes into the match, Nadal made a push with a break point. Stepping up to the line, Auger-Aliassime slashed a serve winner and an ace powering through pressure to hold for 4-2.

Staring at the court before commencing his fluid service motion, Auger-Aliassime closed at 15.


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