May 30, 2023

Tommy Paul earned the biggest win of his career by defeating new dad Rafael Nadal on Wednesday at the Rolex Paris Masters. With his 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-1 victory, the American denied the World No. 2 a potential return to the top of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings — a title run for the Spaniard combined with a third-round exit for Carlos Alcaraz would have seen Nadal move past his countryman at the summit.

“It’s probably my best win,” Paul said post-match. “I was obviously pumped for the matchup because it’s always interesting when you play one of the Big Three. I’ve only played him the second time, but the first time I was so nervous. It was weird, this time I wasn’t really nervous. I was pretty relaxed going onto the court and the day before. I think that played a role. I came out playing pretty well. He got the first set, but I feel like I played pretty well from the jump.”

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After a late start to the Paris evening session, Paul trailed by a set and a break before an instant reply saw him break Nadal at love for 2-2 in the second. The American began to dictate from there, creating three further break chances with his aggressive baseline game before sealing the set in the tie-break.

“I thought when I was making my first serve, I was playing well,” said Paul, who made 67 per cent of his first deliveries in the second set. “I had a lot of fun out there. It was probably the best I’ve played in the past three months. I know it’s been a slow Europe swing for me, so I’m pumped to get that W.”

A loose service game from Nadal handed Paul an early lead in the decider, and the American drove home his advantage after surviving a dramatic game to hold for 3-1. Nadal was millimetres from levelling the set after digging out of a 0/40 hole on return, but a would-be winner landed just wide with Nadal’s challenge unsuccessful. At deuce, a successful Paul challenge on the same sideline erased a Nadal winner and paved the way for the crucial hold.

Paul padded his lead in the ensuing game, firing a winner and flashing his speed to track down a drop shot to break for the fourth time. A fifth break finished the match after two hours, 32 minutes. 

The American improved to 4-4 against the Top 5, with his best previous win coming against then-World No. 3 Alexander Zverev in a third-set tie-break this year at Indian Wells. He will next face another Spaniard in Pablo Carreno Busta in what will be the pair’s first ATP Head2Head meeting.

Nadal, who was competing in an ATP Tour event for the first time since the US Open — and the first time as a father — showed flashes of brilliance but could not sustain top form, particularly down the stretch as he appeared out of sorts. He produced a highlight-reel shot as he tracked down a lob in set two, opting for a spinning forehand rather than a tweener and roping it past a stunned Paul for a passing-shot winner.

Following the defeat, Nadal can turn his attention to the Nitto ATP Finals from 13-20 November. The full Turin singles field was confirmed on Wednesday, with Felix Auger-Aliassime and Andrey Rublev sealing the final two spots after Taylor Fritz‘s exit.

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