The Green Group qualification scenarios have become crystal clear entering Thursday at the Nitto ATP Finals. With Casper Ruud already through to the Turin semis, one more place is available for either Felix Auger-Aliassime or Taylor Fritz. The two Turin debutants will square off on Day 5 in what essentially amounts to a quarter-final: win and advance at the other’s expense.

Ruud will look to improve to 3-0 in round-robin play when he takes on Rafael Nadal, who has already been eliminated from semi-final contention — though the Spaniard still has a generous helping of potential prize money and Pepperstone ATP Rankings points to play for.

In the doubles competition, returning finalists Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury look to complete their own 3-0 run against semi-final hopefuls Marcelo Arevalo and Jean-Julien Rojer, while Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos seek their first win of the week against the 1-1 team of Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara.

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[5] Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) vs. [8] Taylor Fritz (USA)

Auger-Aliassime and Fritz arrived at their 1-1 Turin records the same way: a win against Nadal and a defeat to Ruud. It’s the Canadian who enters this matchup with the momentum, having beaten Nadal for the first time on Tuesday before Fritz fell two points shy of a comeback win against Ruud in the evening session.

Both Auger-Aliassime and Fritz have benefitted from the slick conditions at the Pala Alpitour, their big serves and forehands accentuated by the indoor hard court. After facing two players who favour clay in Rafa and Ruud, this pivotal match will see both players on their best surface.

While their attacking objectives bear many similarities, Wednesday’s opponents execute their game plans in different ways. Felix flies around the court, whereas Fritz is more at home when he has time to load up on his forehand. What the American lacks in raw speed, he makes up for in athleticism, as evidenced by his dramatic diving volley to save a break point in the third set against Ruud.

But make no mistake: Power plays will rule the day in this contest.

“It’s going to be a lot of big hitting,” Fritz previewed. “Kind of honestly how every match is going to go on this court — it’s going to come down to protecting your serve well, maybe making something happen on the return game. It’s really going to just come down to holding serve and playing my service games well.”

Fritz previously said that the fast conditions help his serve and backhand, though he prefers more time to uncork his big forehand swing. As for Auger-Aliassime, he enjoyed the speedy court more in his second match as he got used to its bounce.

“At the end, it’s great conditions for me,” the Canadian said after beating Nadal. “It took me a while to adjust on the [return of] serve. I feel like today I felt much more comfortable. I don’t know, better rhythm, better distance when I was returning. I think these two parts of my game — the backhand and return — were two things I did much better. The serve and the forehand were still at a very high level.”

Auger-Aliassime and Fritz have met just once before on the singles court, when the American scored a 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4 win at this year’s ATP Cup — an event Canada went on to win, with captain Auger-Aliassime claiming the title-clinching point against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the final.

[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. [3] Casper Ruud (NOR)

Neither Nadal nor Ruud played many matches following the US Open, but for very different reasons. While Nadal nursed his injuries and welcomed the birth of his first child, playing just one ATP Tour event before Turin, Ruud competed in four ATP Tour events but slumped to a 2-4 record. The Norwegian played more matches in his final runs at both Roland Garros and the US Open — and he matched those six outings in his Miami final run, as well.

Their stories in Turin have also contrasted, with Ruud a perfect 2-0 and Nadal 0-2 without a set won. Though the round-robin fates of both men were sealed before this matchup, the 200 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points and $383,300 in prize money on the line leave plenty to play for.

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On a personal level, Ruud is seeking his first win against his “idol” after a one-sided defeat in the Roland Garros final.

“You can never count Rafa out. He has proven that many times,” Ruud said. “Every match here is important. You play for points and the ranking. I’m sure he would like to seek some sort of revenge for his two losses and finish his ATP season in a good way.

“I will try to keep it rolling for the semi-final. It would be obviously a dream feeling to move out of the group with three wins. But the next one is going to be probably the toughest match in my career, due to the fact that he’s also been my biggest idol for all my life. It’s always going to be a little bit extra special to play against him.”

Ruud, who has trained at Nadal’s academy in Mallorca, used what he called “one of the best serving performances in my career” to edge Fritz in three sets on Tuesday and cement his return to the Turin semi-finals for the second straight year. He hit 14 aces and made 70 per cent of his first serves in the contest, losing serve just once in 16 service games.

After facing the firepower of Fritz and Auger-Aliassime, Nadal will not be looking forward to seeing more strong serving from the Norwegian. Ruud will no doubt look to take a cue from his group-mates and attempt to rob Nadal of time in the rallies throughout the match, both on serve and return.

But Nadal saw progress in his game after falling to Felix, and the Spaniard will hope to build toward the 2023 season with a productive showing in his final match this year.

“It’s going to be hopefully a good match,” he said. “I need to keep fighting, keep trying to finish the season in a positive way. Not saying winning, but just offering an image for myself that really in some way helps me to keep going on my preparation for next year.”

Doubles Action

All four teams in the Red Group can qualify for the semi-finals with favourable results on Thursday, though Ram and Salisbury are in command with a 2-0 record. The American-British pair is seeking to return to the knockout rounds after reaching the final last year in Turin.

They will meet third seeds Arevalo/Rojer for the first time as they seek a fourth title of 2022, their previous three coming at the US Open and the ATP Masters 1000s in Monte Carlo and Cincinnati. Arevalo/Rojer are making their team debut at the Nitto ATP Finals, though Rojer won the 2015 title alongside Horia Tecau.

Thursday’s opening doubles match will see Glasspool/Heliovaara take on Granollers/Zeballos, also for the first time. Both Glasspool and Heliovaara are making their Nitto ATP Finals debuts, while Granollers/Zeballos are making their third straight appearance as a pair after semi-final runs in each of the past two years. At 0-2, the Spanish-Argentine pair will need wins from both themselves and Ram/Salisbury to advance.

At 1-1, Glasspool/Heliovaara require a straight-sets win to guarantee their semi-final place. A three-set win for the British-Finnish duo coupled with a straight-sets win for Arevalo/Rojer would set up a three-way tie (along with Ram/Salisbury), with percentage of games won deciding the two semi-final qualifiers in that scenario.

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