Rafael Nadal said goodbye to London for another year last night admitting his late-season struggles can partly be explained by a loss of passion for the game.
The Spaniard exited the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in the group stages after a 7-6 (7/2) 4-6 6-3 defeat by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and will now fly home to Spain ahead of next weekend’s Davis Cup final against Argentina in Seville.
The form of the two players in London this week meant the result was not a surprise, but the manner in which Nadal surrendered the third set after battling back to level is clearly a concern for the world number two.
He took a month off before the end-of-season tournament after a shattering loss to Florian Mayer in Shanghai, which left him needing to rest body and mind.
Nadal has been one of the leading advocates for a shorter season and the amount playing the sport takes out of him is very evident.
It was still significant, though, to hear him use the word “passion” when discussing his loss of form, but he vowed to work as hard as he can in order to begin the 2012 season in good shape.
“Probably I had a little bit less passion for the game probably because I was a little bit more tired than usual,” said Nadal.
“I am going to practise and I am going to do everything in my hands to be perfect for the beginning of 2012.
“This end of the year wasn’t easy for me. That’s hard to accept. But at the same time that’s given me a little bit more of a goal for the beginning of 2012.
“My desire is there. My motivation I hope is the same. I will do it. If it’s not enough, it’s not going to be enough. But I will be satisfied with myself.”
Nadal’s troubles took nothing away from the performance of Tsonga, who delighted the packed arena with his aggressive play and skill at the net as he reached the semi-finals for the first time.
The 26-year-old revealed he prepared for the clash by watching some of his matches from his breakthrough tournament at the 2008 Australian Open, when he beat Nadal in the semi-finals before losing to Novak Djokovic.
He added: “I said, ’Wow!’ Before I had a lot of energy and I was running faster, I was hitting harder, but I was crazy on the court.
“I think this year I just improved that. I’m maybe less fast, less powerful, but I’m better in my head.”
Tsonga will find out who he plays in the last four today when Group A is completed, and Djokovic could well go the same way as Nadal.
The Serb faces his friend and countryman Janko Tipsarevic this afternoon but whatever the result he will have to wait until this evening, when Tomas Berdych takes on David Ferrer, to discover his fate.
Ferrer is already through and a straight-sets win for Berdych would ensure Djokovic was eliminated, but were the Czech to lose then the world number one would progress.