PARIS — Rafael Nadal will finish the year as the top-ranked player for the fourth time, surprising even the fiercest of competitors after a wrist injury and a lack of form severely dented his steely confidence.

The 31-year-old Spaniard assured himself the No. 1 ranking by beating Hyeon Chung 7-5, 6-3 Wednesday in the second round of the Paris Masters.

The 16-time Grand Slam winner had not finished the year at the top since 2013, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray doing so after that.

“One year ago, for sure I never dreamed about being No. 1 again at the end of the season,” said Nadal, who missed large parts of 2016 because of a troublesome wrist. “It has been an amazing year.”

Nadal’s comeback has been truly remarkable, even by his lofty standards.

He reached three Grand Slam finals this year, losing to Roger Federer at the Australian Open and winning a 10th French Open title before clinching the U.S. Open for the third time.

“It was impossible for me to think about (being No. 1) coming back from a tough period without playing, and with so many injuries in the last couple of years,” said Nadal, who also finished as No. 1 in ’08 and ’10. “It means a lot. After almost 10 years since the first time.”

Nadal is also the oldest year-ending No. 1, testimony to his relentless determination.

“It’s about the passion for what you are doing. It’s about the mentality of waking up every morning with the right motivation to go on court and improve something. That’s the winning mentality, no?” he replied, when asked what drives him. “The passion to improve something and practice every day with the right attitude to try to make that happen … not everybody is able to do it.”

The only downside this season has been always losing to Federer, who leads the ATP Tour with seven titles.

Federer has beaten Nadal four consecutive times — not dropping a set in three of them — and the 19-time Grand Slam champion was in outside contention for the No. 1 ranking before pulling out of Paris to focus on the season-ending ATP Finals in London next week.

The 21-year-old Chung broke Nadal in the ninth game of the first set and held for 5-5. But Nadal took the first set after breaking Chung to love.

Chung saved four break points in a fourth game of the second set lasting 12 minutes, holding for 2-2. But Nadal accelerated after that and served out the victory on his second match point.

Nadal, who is tied for a record 30 Masters titles with Djokovic, has never won the tournament in Paris. He will next face Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay, who beat 15th-seeded Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-7 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-2.

Third-seeded Marin Cilic won 6-4, 6-3 against Borna Coric in an all-Croatian match.

Cilic, who had 13 aces, will next play 14th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. He eased past Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 6-1.

No. 4 Alexander Zverev lost to Robin Haase 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, and No. 9 John Isner beat Diego Schwartzman 7-6 (2), 6-7 (11), 6-3.

Haase next plays No. 13 Juan Martin del Potro, who eased past Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-2, 6-2. The big-serving Argentine needs to win in Paris to have a chance of reaching the Finals in London.

Isner, who lost last year’s final to Murray, faces No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov. He beat Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-4.

Frenchman Lucas Pouille kept alive his slim chances of qualifying for London with a 6-3, 6-4 win against Feliciano Lopez, but No. 12 Kevin Anderson’s chances took a blow after a 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 loss to Fernando Verdasco.

No. 11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s bid to reach London is over following a 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 loss to Julien Benneteau in an all-French match.

Benneteau plays No. 7 David Goffin of Belgium, who won 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 against Adrian Mannarino.

Also, No. 16 Jack Sock of the United States had 14 aces in a 4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) win against Kyle Edmund and faces Pouille in Thursday’s third round.

Author photo
JEROME PUGMIRE
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.