Nadal has beaten world number four Stanislas Wawrinka and number two Andy Murray, without dropping a set to reach the semifinals.
Novak Djokovic only needed a set. The Serb No. 1 rarely settles for less than two, though, especially against one of his favorite opponents.
Djokovic reached the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals by extending his dominance over Tomas Berdych, beating the Czech player 6-3, 7-5 on Thursday in their last round-robin match and stay on course for a fourth straight title.
Earlier, Roger Federer overcame a stubborn Kei Nishikori to finish the round-robin stage unbeaten and claim first place in the group.
Under the tournament’s tiebreaker rules, Djokovic would have advanced even if he lost in three sets, which would have left both players with a 1-2 record. That meant there was little left to play for after he broke for a 5-3 lead in the first and then served out the set.
Djokovic didn’t let up, though, breaking for 6-5 in the second and improving his career record against Berdych to 21-2. He has beaten the Czech five times in the last six years at the ATP finals.
That history might have given Djokovic an edge on the key points at the O2 Arena, he said.
“I know that because I’ve had many close matches with him, because I’ve won so many times against him, maybe there is this factor of a mental edge,” Djokovic said, “maybe an advantage in important moments, decisive moments where I’m able to stick around and stay tough and believe that I can actually win.”
“It’s a fact that he’s been playing better and he’s been raising his level ever since the U.S. Open,” Djokovic said of Nadal. “I know that, I’ve been watching. I know what is expecting me. We played so many times. I’m going to get ready for that one and hopefully I’ll be able to play at my best.”
In the early session, Federer struggled to put away Nishikori before winning 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 and sending the Japanese player home early.
Federer, playing with a weeklong stubble, faced more questions after the match about his beard than about the struggles with his serve that saw him broken five times. Wil it stay as long as he keeps winning?
“If it itches too much, I’ll take it off,” Federer said. “If my girls can’t stand it, I’ll take it off. If I look in the mirror and I don’t like it, I’ll take it off. Maybe I’ll think of Santa and keep it. It’s around the corner. I don’t know yet.”
As for his wife, Mirka, “she’s fine with it.”
“I mean, she’s OK, I guess,” he added. “I do take decisions by myself sometimes.”
Federer broke for a 3-1 lead in all three sets but Nishikori came back each time, taking advantage of some rare mishits by the Swiss star along the way. But Nishikori finally ran out of comebacks as Federer earned his sixth break of the match in the last game, clinching the win with a smash.
While Federer had already advanced to the semifinals, he never there was no let-up in the third set even as Nishikori kept finding ways of getting back into the match.
“It’s just another match, a really important one for me, to move on with a good feeling,” Federer said. “There’s (ranking) points on the line and prestige, wanting to beat Kei, winning at the O2. I want to do well here.”
Nadal’s a big threat again, says Federer and Djokovic
Rafa Nadal will be pose a significant grand slam threat again next year after showing signs of returning to his best, according to two of the Spaniard’s greatest rivals.
Spaniard Nadal slumped to 10th in the world rankings this year after a crisis of confidence and form, but since a third-round defeat at the U.S. Open by Italian Fabio Fognini he has rediscovered his old spark.
So far this week at the ATP World Tour Finals he has beaten world number four Stanislas Wawrinka and number two Andy Murray, without dropping a set to reach the semi-finals with a match to spare, where he will face world number one Novak Djokovic.
Serbia’s Djokovic, who trails Nadal 23-22 but has won all three matches this year, says the 29-year-old is over his slide.
“You can feel that he’s starting to get comfortable on the court, starting to play better,” Djokovic said.
“The couple of matches, first couple of matches he played here against Wawrinka and Murray showed that, showed that he feels more confident, shows that he’s starting to miss less, serve efficiently, use his forehand much better.”
Seventeen-time major champion Roger Federer has suffered at the hands of Nadal more than any other player, losing 23 of their 34 contests, and fully expects the Mallorcan to continue his form into 2016, providing he stays fit.
“Maybe for his standard it’s not the best season. What is he going to finish, top five? It’s still a good season,” said the Swiss. “Everybody would take that except maybe a few players at this tournament. The rest would all love to be in his shoes.
“I think he’s going to get stronger. With some time to practice and reassess his game, he’s going to be tough to beat in Australia. I believe that.”