Nadal sent packing from London after another battering

Doubts over former No 1's long-term prospects as he is knocked out of season finale

Rafael Nadal won all his 12 matches in London last year as he triumphed at Queen's Club and Wimbledon. Memories of his 2009 trips may prove to be equally vivid, but for very different reasons.

The only matches Nadal played in Britain this summer were in an exhibition event at Hurlingham, when a fitness test on his inflamed knees led to his withdrawal from Wimbledon, while his autumn visit here to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals will end tomorrow with his final round-robin match against Novak Djokovic.

Nadal became the first player to lose any hope of winning a place in the semi-finals at the end-of-season championships when he was beaten 6-1, 7-6 last night by Nikolay Davydenko. If Nadal showed plenty of fight in recovering from 4-2 down in an 80-minute second set, the world No 2's performance in the opener, in which he won just 13 points, was woeful. It was his second successive straight-sets defeat here.

While Nadal has never enjoyed much success in the latter half of the season, the last six months have raised doubts as to whether he can ever recapture his former glories. The Spaniard has not been the same since returning from a two-month break to nurse his knees in the summer. He looks less intimidating physically, has not won a title for six months and has won only one of his last nine matches against top 10 opponents.

He still has a chance to end his season on a high in the Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic in Barcelona next week, but Nadal said that he knew he had not been playing well enough to succeed here. "I didn't arrive with the confidence you need to win these matches," he said. "In the moments when I had to play well I didn't. But I fought a lot in both my matches and always tried my best."

Group B always looked like being the more competitive of the two sections in this tournament and Djokovic could yet join Nadal on an early flight out of London. The world No 3's marathon season finally caught up with him when he was beaten 7-6, 6-1 by Robin Soderling, who thereby guaranteed his place in the semi-finals.

Soderling would not even have been playing here had Andy Roddick not withdrawn last week. The Swede was such a late replacement that his face does not appear on the posters advertising the tournament on the way into the arena.

All four players going into today's last round of round-robin matches in Group A can make the semi-finals. Andy Murray, who plays Fernando Verdasco this afternoon, and Roger Federer, who meets Juan Martin del Potro tonight, are the favourites: both will go through if both win, while Murray will definitely qualify if he wins in straight sets. If Murray wins or loses in three sets he will have to await the outcome of the evening match.

It could be argued that those playing second have an advantage in that they will know what they have to do to qualify, but Federer, who could still go out despite having beaten Verdasco and Murray already, insisted that matches "are always played full on". Prize money of $120,000 (about £72,000) for each victory is an additional incentive.

"No matter if you play first or second, you play as well as you can and then see if you're through or not," Federer said. "I guess the only advantage or disadvantage now is that I'll know if I'm through or not before my match."

Murray will need to pick himself up after his comprehensive 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 defeat by Federer on Tuesday night, but he should feel confident of beating Verdasco, having won seven of their eight meetings.

"If I play well I'll have a good chance of winning, if I don't then there's a good chance I'll lose," Murray said. "The only important thing is to try and qualify from the group, whether you win one, two or three matches. Last year I won three and lost in the semis. This year I could potentially lose two matches and win the tournament. You just never know."

Last four: How Murray can reach the semi-finals

The top two players in each group qualify for the semi-finals. If two or more players are tied on the same number of wins after the round-robin matches the following tie-breakers are used: 1 winner of match between the players if two are tied; 2 player with highest percentage of sets won; 3 player with highest percentage of games won.

Possible outcomes

Murray and Federer will go through if they win today against Verdasco and Del Potro respectively. Federer and Del Potro will go through if Verdasco and Del Potro win. Here are the other possible scenarios:

If Murray and Del Potro win in straight sets: Murray and Del Potro qualify;

If Murray wins in straight sets and Del Potro wins in three sets: Murray and Del Potro qualify;

If Murray wins in three sets and Del Potro wins in straight sets: Murray and Del Potro qualify;

If Murray and Del Potro win in three sets: highest percentage of games won by Federer, Murray and Del Potro decides who qualifies as group winner; runner-up will be winner of match between the other two

If Murray and Del Potro lose in straight sets: Federer and Verdasco qualify

If Murray loses in three sets and Federer wins in straight sets: Federer and Verdasco qualify

If Murray and Del Potro lose in three sets: Federer qualifies plus player out of Murray, Del Potro and Verdasco with highest percentage of games won

If Murray loses in straight sets and Federer wins in three sets: Federer and Verdasco qualify

Paul Newman

ATP World Tour Finals: State of play

Group A

Matches/Sets/Games

R Federer Won 2/4-2/32-22

A Murray Won 1/3-3/25-26

J M Del Potro Won 1/3-3/27-31

F Verdasco Won 0/2-4/28-33

Group B

Matches/Sets/Games

R Soderling Won 2/4-0/25-15

N Davydenko Won 1/3-2/28-23

N Djokovic Won 1/2-3/23-28

R Nadal Won 0/0-4/15-25

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