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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Rafael Nadal 'never dreamed' of return to world No 1 after clinching end-of-year status in Paris

Spaniard's straight sets win over Hyeing Chung ensured he ends the year at the top of the rankings.

Rafael Nadal applauds the crowd after his second round Paris Masters win over Hyeong Chung. Christophe Petit Tesson / AFP
Rafael Nadal applauds the crowd after his second round Paris Masters win over Hyeong Chung. Christophe Petit Tesson / AFP

Rafael Nadal remained typically focused after securing the year-end world No 1 ranking at the Paris Masters on Wednesday, although the Spaniard admitted he “never dreamed” it would happen.

Nadal, 31, claimed a 7-5, 6-3 second-round victory over South Korean Hyeon Chung to maintain his place at the summit and become the oldest man to finish a season at the top of the rankings.

It is the fourth time the Spaniard, who started the season ninth in the rankings, has achieved the feat after 2008, 2010 and 2013. Nadal will therefore arrive in Abu Dhabi for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship next month as the best player in the world.

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It caps a remarkable return to the top of the game for Nadal, whom many feared would struggle to recapture his best form following extended spells out with knee and wrist injuries.

Nadal has won six titles this season, including two grand slam titles at the French Open and US Open.

“I’m very, very happy for everything,” Nadal said in his court-side interview following his win over Chung.

“It has been an amazing year. One year ago, for sure I never dreamed about being world No 1 again at the end of the season.

“It’s something that means a lot to me, but the season is not over.”

Nadal went into the match knowing victory would give him an unassailable lead as world No 1 over old rival Roger Federer after he withdrew before the start of the Paris tournament.

Chung, 21, put up a brave fight, but a fired-up Nadal proved too strong for the South Korean.

Nadal will next face Pablo Cuevas in the last 16 today after the unseeded Uruguayan beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-7, 7-6, 6-2.

Alexander Zverev’s bid for a third Masters 1000 title of the season came to an abrupt end after he was surprisingly defeated by Dutchman Robin Haase

Having eased through the first set, fourth seed Zverev looked poised to advance to the third round.

However, the German lost his composure, getting broken twice in the second and third sets to lose 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Haase will face Juan Martin Del Potro in the third round after the Argentine’s 6-2, 6-2 destruction of Portugal’s Joao Sousa.

Similarly to Nadal, Del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion and former world No 4, is on the comeback trail from his own career-threatening injuries.

In February 2016, Del Potro was ranked No 1045 in the world. He is now up to No 17 and remains in the hunt for a place at the ATP World Tour Finals.

To reach the eight-player tournament, Del Potro needs to reach the semi-finals in Paris.

Home hope Lucas Pouille kept his slim hopes of qualifying for the World Tour Finals alive by seeing off Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4, but US Open runner-up Kevin Anderson’s chances ended with a 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 loss to Fernando Verdasco.

Another home favourite, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, slumped to a surprise defeat to fellow Frenchman Julien Benneteau.

After comfortably beating Benneteau last week in Antwerp, it looked to be going the same way in Paris.

However, the world No 83 fought back against his 11th-seeded compatriot to prevail 2-6, 7-6, 6-2.