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Nadal Settles London Finals Line-Up

Paris (Bercy), France

Rafael Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal is chasing a 16th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy.

Reigning ATP World Tour Champion Rafael Nadal decided the final line-up for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals by defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals of the BNP Paribas Masters Friday in Paris (Bercy).

The second seed edged defending champion Tsonga 7-5, 7-5 at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, eliminating the Frenchman from contention in the Battle for London and securing Fernando Verdasco the final spot in the elite eight-man season finale.

Nadal’s fellow Spaniard Verdasco faced an anxious wait following his third-round defeat to Marin Cilic yesterday, but qualifies for the season finale at The O2 for the first time with 3,300 points. Tsonga, who clinched the final spot in a dramatic final win against David Nalbandian at the BNP Paribas Masters last year, finished in 10th place in the year-to-date South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings with 2,875 points.

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Tsonga made an explosive start to his fifth meeting with Nadal, getting the crowd at the Palais Omnisports fired up as he created five break point opportunities in the Spaniard’s first three service games. Tsonga was made to pay the price for his failure to convert one though as Nadal gained a foothold in the match and was more potent when presented with a break point chance, breaking serve in the 11th game before closing out the first set.

Both players squandered early break point chances in a high-quality second set before Nadal silenced the French crowd by breaking through in the 11th game once more as Tsonga pushed a backhand long from mid court. With the bit between his teeth, Nadal was ruthless in sealing victory, serving out to love after one hour and 51 minutes.

"This match was exactly like my whole year," lamented Tsonga. "I have all the shots. I have the opportunity of doing passes or whatever other shot for finishing the point, and I don't finish it. The lesson I draw from that match is that I wasn't able to take the opportunities."

"[It] was [a] very important victory for me," said Nadal, who saved five match points in his second-round win over Nicolas Almagro. "[It was] probably the first big victory after my comeback from the injury. So I'm very happy for that. I started the tournament playing almost terrible, and right now I'm in the semi-finals.

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"I played aggressively during all the match. I went to the net a lot of times and had good volleys. I think I served really well, much better than the rest of the days. In important moments I had a few aces, so that give me a lot of confidence." 

Nadal’s 64th win of the season saw the Spaniard continue to close the gap on World No. 1 Roger Federer at the top of the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings. The pair is locked in an intriguing battle to see who will be crowned ATP World Tour Champion, with Nadal now 945 points behind the Swiss, who suffered a shock second-round exit to Julien Benneteau.

Should Nadal clinch his 16th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title this week – which would place him just one of the coveted trophies behind all-time leader Andre Agassi – the Mallorcan would move to just 305 points behind his rival. With 1,500 points up for grabs for an undefeated champion at the season finale, the stage would be set for a gripping battle to the top at the end of the year.

The left-hander is chasing his sixth tour-level title of the season, his first since triumphing at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in May. He has recovered from knee tendonitis and an abdominal injury well by reaching the final of the Shanghai ATP Masters 1000 presented by Rolex (l. to Davydenko) last month. 

Nadal next will face Novak Djokovic in the pair's sixth meeting of the season. Djokovic won their most recent clash in the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters in August.

"Probably he's the player who's playing better in this part of the season," complimented Nadal. "He's doing really good end of the season. It's going to be a challenge for me and a good test. I know he's the favourite on this kind of surface, but I'm here to keep improving and we will see what happens tomorrow."

 

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