Rafael Nadal refused to blame the pressure of the occasion after his semifinal loss to Daniil Medvedev at the Nitto ATP Finals on Saturday.
Nadal was aiming to win the season-ending event for the first time in his career, and he seemed on track to reach the final as he won the first set and served for the match at 5-4 in the second. But the Russian, who was riding an eight-match winning streak, turned the tables to win the second set in a tie-break and then the decider on the back of two breaks.
Medvedev will now play US Open champion Dominic Thiem, who upset top-ranked Novak Djokovic in a thrilling three-setter in Saturday's first semifinal.
After the match Rafael Nadal was asked whether the pressure of winning his first year-ending championship - the only big title that has eluded him in his career - contributed to the uncharacteristic collapse in the second set. But the Spaniard believes that was not a decisive factor, and that it was just one of those days when his game wasn't up to the mark.
“I think I achieved enough to not find an excuse about the pressure,” Rafael Nadal said after the match. “I know I won enough matches and enough tournaments in an even more difficult situation than this one... So I don't feel that way."
Rafael Nadal did admit, however, that he had a great chance of making the final for the first time since 2013. The Spaniard rued the errors he made in the game at 5-4 in the second set, and acknowledged that Medvedev lifted his level at the right time.
"In the second, a little bit the same story at the beginning, but at the end of the set I was playing a little bit better than him," Nadal said. "And then in the 5-4 I think he played a good game and I didn't. I played a bad game. That's it. But I had a big opportunity. I lost a big opportunity.”
"I feel I played a bad game," he added. "Of course you are nervous to win the match. But not [only] me, everybody. [It] is normal to have the tension. I think he played some good points and I made a couple of mistakes. Small details make a big difference. Just well done for him and not enough good for me."
I hope to be ready to fight for the things I want to fight for in 2021: Rafael Nadal
Even with the season coming to an end and the status of the 2021 calendar still up in the air, Rafael Nadal is determined to prepare during the off-season with the same motivation as he always has. The record for most Grand Slam titles in men's tennis (he is currently tied with Roger Federer at 20 with Djokovic three behind at 17), and a record-extending 14th French Open title, will likely be at the top of his priority list for next season.
"My goal is always the same: to go to every tournament and to give myself a chance to compete well and to try to win it," Rafael Nadal said.
"That's the goal of every year. My motivation [has] been always the same. Next year is going to be an important year. I hope to be ready to fight for the things that I want to fight [for]. I'm going to work hard during the off-season to be ready for the beginning."