Rested Rafa Primed For Turin Debut
With the pre-tournament pageantry complete in Turin, Sunday marks the start of play at the 2022 Nitto ATP Finals. Group-stage action will light up the Pala Alpitour, with top seed Rafael Nadal set to close opening day with his matchup against tournament debutant Taylor Fritz.
Casper Ruud takes on the red-hot Felix Auger-Aliassime in the afternoon, after Roland Garros champions Jean-Julien Rojer and Marcelo Arevalo open play against Harri Heliovaara and Lloyd Glasspool. Last year’s doubles finalists, Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram, will also take the court against Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos.
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 Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs.  Taylor Fritz (USA)
Nadal fell out of the rhythm of the ATP Tour in the second half of the season, for reasons both good and bad. He welcomed the birth of his first child in October but also spent time out of action as he recovered from two abdominal tears, suffered at Wimbledon and just before the US Open.
After an early exit at the Rolex Paris Masters, he said he would travel to Turin early in his bid to get back to the peak form that saw him start the season with a personal-best 20 straight wins. Indeed, the Spaniard was one of the first to begin practising in Northern Italy.
“I’m happy because I’ve been able to train and I’m excited to play well,” Nadal told ATPTour.com in Turin. “If I didn’t think I had a chance to fight for what I came for, I wouldn’t be here. I think I have a chance.”
What he came for is the last big title he has yet to win in his legendary career. If the 2010 and 2013 Nitto ATP Finals runner-up can go all the way in his 11th appearance at the event, his triumph would also earn him the year-end No. 1 Pepperstone ATP Ranking for the sixth time.
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Nadal’s first assignment is Taylor Fritz, with whom he split two high-profile matches this season. Fritz won their first 2022 meeting in his native Southern California, riding his big serve and forehand to the Indian Wells title with a 6-3, 7-6(5) victory. In the Wimbledon quarter-finals, Nadal pulled out a 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(10-4) victory while struggling with an abdominal issue that later forced his withdrawal from the event.
With his serve severely limited, the Spaniard succeed in dragging the American into rallies on the grass, firing from the ground after working hard to create openings.
On the hard courts in Turin, Fritz will be looking to take full advantage of the indoor conditions as he aims to level his ATP Head2Head at 2-2 against Nadal.
“Playing Rafa is a big deal,” Fritz said. “The match we had at Wimbledon was very close. Between the two matches we’ve played, there were very high highs [after Indian Wells] and very low lows [following Wimbledon]. I’m excited to be opening with him on Sunday night.”
Fritz also hopes to reap the rewards of an early arrival in Turin, with the American electing to remain in Europe after Paris.
 Casper Ruud (NOR) vs.  Felix Auger-Aliassime
Ruud backed up his run to the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals semi-finals with a career-best season that saw him rise to World No. 2 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings following his run to the US Open final. A three-time ATP Tour champion in 2022, Ruud also reached the final at Roland Garros and in Miami, where he began to flash his hard-court credentials.
In the closing months of a gruelling year, Ruud was not able to continue his strong form after the US Open, failing to record multiple victories at any of the four tournaments he played.
The Norwegian is hoping the passionate support of the Turin crowd can help him get back to his best tennis.
“This is such a great place, great city to play in,” he said. “The Italian fans are so passionate that you will feel the energy from the moment you step on court, which hopefully can lift you a little bit, no mater who you are or who you are playing… They really know what they’re doing here in Italy when it comes to the sport of tennis and that’s a great feeling for us.”
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Ruud will need to be firing on all cylinders to beat Auger-Aliassime, who enters Turin as perhaps the hottest player on the ATP Tour. No one had a better indoor season than the Canadian, who won three straight titles in Florence, Antwerp and Basel before reaching the Paris semi-finals as he secured his debut appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals.
Auger-Aliassime will seek to break down Ruud’s consistent game with his heavy firepower, though the Norwegian has shown this season that he can also attack with the game’s best, his high-RPM forehand among the season’s standout shots.
While the 22-year-old Auger-Aliassime’s competitive fire will be on full display come Sunday afternoon, the Canadian took a moment to reflect on his accomplishment in reaching Turin before the action begins.
“I remember watching [the Nitto ATP Finals] for the first time in my early teenage years,” he said. “I remember just being inspired by it and feeling that it would be amazing to be a part of that. Now that I’m here, it’s a full-circle moment. It’s really special and I hope it’s not the last time.”
As if he needed any added motivation, Auger-Aliassime will be seeking a measure of revenge against Ruud after the Norwegian knocked him out of his hometown tournament with a dominant win in the Montreal quarter-finals.
Ram and Salisbury look to complete unfinished business in Turin after reaching the final one year ago. The second seeds are making their fourth consecutive Nitto ATP Finals appearance as a team, with Ram set for his sixth showing overall. The British-American pair won three titles in 2022, at the US Open and the ATP Masters 1000s in Monte Carlo and Cincinnati.
Their opening opponents, seventh seeds Granollers and Zeballos, won the Halle title this season and reached five additional semi-finals, including at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. Ram/Salisbury lead the ATP Head2Head between the pairs 4-2, with their most recent meeting last year in Rome.
Reigning Roland Garros champs Arevalo and Rojer have the privilege of opening play in Turin against sixth seeds Glasspool and Heliovaara. The teams have already met twice this season, with Arevalo/Rojer earning straight-sets victories in the Dallas and Stockholm finals.
Sixth seeds Glasspool and Heliovaara are one of two teams making their Nitto ATP Finals debut this week, along with Aussies Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios. The British-Finnish duo claimed the Hamburg title this season and reached six additional finals.