Rafael Nadal ready for Dominic Thiem ‘challenge’ amid rankings threat

Thiem and Nadal will face off (Picture: AFP via Getty)

Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal can both secure their spots in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals when their paths cross on Tuesday.

Thiem, the world No. 3 from Austria, edged past Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas on Day 1 at the O2, avenging his final defeat from 12 months ago in three sets.

Nadal had a more comfortable evening’s work as he put Russian debutant Andrey Rublev to the sword.

Should Nadal, the 20-time Grand Slam champion from Spain, beat Thiem and Tsitsipas loses to Rublev, he will advance to the semi-finals.

However, if Thiem – who won his first major title at the US Open this year – beats Nadal and Tsitsipas defeats Rublev, he will move into the final four.

Nadal, 34, is wary of the threat posed by last year’s runner-up Thiem, 27, and expects a ‘big challenge’ on Tuesday.

Thiem made a winning start (Picture: Getty)

‘Well, he’s a great player,’ Nadal, who leads their head-to-head 9-5, said after his 6-3 6-4 win over Rublev.

‘He’s improving every year. He’s a hard worker. Great guy, so I’m super happy for him to watch him win his first Grand Slam and he deserved it.

‘He’s one of the guys on the tour that really deserves the success because he’s a very hard worker, no?

‘So for me gonna be a tough one. Hopefully for him, too. I’m gonna try to be ready for it. Going to be a big challenge, but I really hope the victory of today helps me for that match.’

An added dimension to Tuesday’s encounter is that Thiem, who won their most recent meeting at the Australian Open, could pass Nadal in the ATP rankings this week.

If Nadal loses to Thiem and then suffers defeat to Tsitsipas and Thiem goes on to win the tournament by winning all of his matches, then he would leapfrog Nadal.

Nadal could slip down the rankings (Picture: Getty)

Nadal, unfazed by the prospect of slipping to world No. 3, said: ‘Well, I prefer to finish No. 2 than No. 3, but as you can feel, I said since a lot of years ago, no, I will not follow the ranking, playing more events or playing things that I think goes against my body, against my future to try to achieve a better ranking, no?

‘I know I have to play well when I have to play well. And if I am playing well there, that’s gonna be my position on the ranking. If it’s second, great. If it’s first, better. If it’s third, still a positive year, no?

‘So that’s my approach, and that’s the way that I see my calendar today. I have to be smart in terms of decide which goals are more important for me, and I think me and all my team we know very clear what’s the most important things for my tennis career.’

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