RAFAEL NADAL admitted he must play the “perfect match” against Roger Federer at the ATP Finals to have any chance of beating his nemesis.
The long-term rivals could face off for the 41st time in tomorrow’s semi-finals – but are awaiting the result of tonight’s match to seal the Spaniard’s fate.
Nadal came back from a set down once again to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier.
But he needs Daniil Medvedev to beat Alexander Zverev in the evening match in order to advance.
If Medvedev does win, Nadal will top the group and play Federer. But if Zverev wins, the German goes through to play Dominic Thiem while Tsitsipas would face Federer.
And Nadal – the newly-crowned year-end world No1 for the fifth time – knows that he will need to play better than he has this week to topple Federer, who outclassed Novak Djokovic last night.
The Spaniard, 33, lost to Zverev before fighting back from 5-1 behind in the third set and match point down to beat Medvedev.
Even against Tsitsipas, Nadal made too many unforced errors – a similar performance against the 20-time Grand Slam champ would surely spell trouble.
He said: “[Indoor hard] is one of the surfaces that he feels comfortable. He plays so well. He plays so fast.
“So I need to play a perfect match tomorrow if I want to have any chance to be in that final.
“I am playing better but is true that Roger yesterday played unbelievable. So he will come to that match with plenty of confidence.
“I hope to be ready to compete at the highest level possible if that’s the case.”
If Nadal does go through, it will set up the chapter No41 in this fascinating rivalry.
It all started in the last 32 of the Miami Masters way back in 2004 as Nadal won 6-3 6-3.
He currently leads the head-to-head 24-16 but Federer won their last meeting, in the Wimbledon semi-final this summer.
Their ongoing battle also features nine meetings in Grand Slam finals with Nadal ahead 6-3, including four in a row between 2008 and 2011.
After losing the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon finals, Nadal finally got his first title at SW19 with an epic victory in 2008.
The match which lasted four hours and 48 minutes was interrupted by two rain delays and finished in virtual darkness, with Rafa finally coming through 6–4 6–4 6–7 6–7 9–7 in what many describe as the greatest tennis match of all time.
Incredibly, though, they have still somehow never played each other in the US Open – despite the pair winning in New York nine times between them.
Federer is looking to secure a record-extending seventh ATP Finals crown while Nadal is hoping to win the season-ending title for the very first time.
But first the French and US Open champ must wait and see what happens between Medvedev and Zverev.
Speaking on the bizarre scenario regarding his preparation for tonight, he added: “I’m not sure if I going to watch the match or not. I don’t know.
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“The only thing that is sure is I have to be ready for anything, so I did my work and I did it well.I am happy for the victory. Now I have to wait.
“I’m not sure if I will go for dinner with the family because [the match] will be around 8pm which is the moment to go for dinner, especially because I have to do the things like if I am playing tomorrow at 2pm.
“So then if I don’t play, fine, but I have to be ready for it just in case.”