Defending champion Alexander Zverev edged world number one Rafael Nadal at the ATP Finals on Monday as Stefanos Tsitsipas got his campaign off to a flying start.
The Spanish top seed, who has never won the event, came into the tournament at London’s O2 Arena under an injury cloud and was well short of his imperious best as he went down 6-2, 6-4.
In the earlier round-robin match in Group Andre Agassi, sixth seed Tsitsipas beat Daniil Medvedev 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, admitting their spiky relationship had made his job tougher.
Nadal, 33, led Germany’s Zverev 5-0 in head-to-head contests coming into the match but was uncharacteristically sloppy in the first set, conceding two breaks of serve.
Buoyed by his dominant start, Zverev, seeded seventh, broke in the first game of the second set to take an iron grip on the match.
Nadal dug deep, urging himself on but his 22-year-old opponent proved too strong as he served out the set. He did not concede a single break point in the entire match.
Zverev hit a total of 26 winners – double his opponent’s tally – and Nadal managed just three forehand winners in the entire match.
‘The physical issue was not an excuse at all,” said the Spanish 19-time Grand Slam champion, who said he did not feel any pain in his abdominal injury. “The only excuse is I was not good enough tonight.”
Nadal faces a tough task now to qualify for the semifinals from the group, with matches still to come against Tsitsipas and Medvedev.
The Spaniard has qualified for the year-end championships for 15 years in a row but has only made eight prior appearances due to injuries.
Earlier, Tsitsipas made light of a 5-0 losing record against his Russian opponent Daniil Medvedev, edging a first-set tie-break and breaking late in the second set to seal the match.