Nadal withdraws from ATP Finals after loss to Goffin

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LONDON (AP) Rafael Nadal will have to wait another year to win the ATP Finals.

The world No. 1 withdrew from the elite, season-ending tournament after losing his opening match to David Goffin 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 on Monday at the O2 Arena.

Nadal pulled out of the Paris Masters at the quarterfinal stage 10 days ago and admitted ahead of the ATP Finals on the indoor hard-court he struggles on, that his knees, which have caused him trouble throughout his career, were still “not perfect.”

Despite having qualified 13 consecutive times for the ATP Finals, only eight of which he’s been fit enough to compete in, Nadal has never won the event. Spain will still be represented, as Nadal will be replaced by U.S. Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta.

“My season is finished,” Nadal said. “Yeah, I had the commitment with the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. I did the thing that I had to do to try to be ready to play. I tried, but seriously was miracle to be very close in the score during the match.”

After two breaks of serve each, Goffin claimed an ugly opening set via a tiebreak and was on the verge of victory in the second, but Nadal’s fighting spirit saved four match points to force another tiebreaker and draw level.

However, the third set proved a step too far for the 16-time Grand Slam champion, who began to struggle with his movement and was in visible pain. Goffin secured a double break to be 4-1, but Nadal rallied once more. He could retrieve only one of the breaks.

“It was tough even if he was not moving 100 percent,” Goffin said. “He was hitting the ball really hard. It’s never easy to finish a match, to finish a set against him. Even if I lost four match points in the second, I had no regret. I kept going in the third.”

Nadal ominously waved goodbye as he left the court, bringing to an end another auspicious season. He won his 10th French Open in June, added a third U.S. Open in September and, at 31, became the oldest man to end the year atop of the rankings.

With the Australian Open still over two months away, Nadal was confident playing in London wouldn’t have done any lasting damage.

“The good thing is (this injury is) nothing new,” Nadal said. “Everybody of my team, we have the right experience on this thing. We hope to manage it well, to have the right rest, the right work, and try to be ready for the beginning of the next season.”

Nadal’s exit simplifies Federer’s path to a seventh ATP Finals title. The winner of 2017’s other two Grand Slams returns to action against Alexander Zverev on Tuesday after defeating Jack Sock on Sunday.

Making his debut at the ATP Finals earlier, Grigor Dimitrov withstood a comeback attempt from Dominic Thiem and held on for a 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 victory.

The sixth-ranked Dimitrov maintained his focus despite being narrowly denied a chance to serve out the match in the second set, and then being broken at his first chance in the third.

“Every year you learn more about yourself, about the game, about the players,” Dimitrov said. “I’ve done also a lot of work on and off the court. It’s finally starting to kind of, like, come together.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”