Stefanos Tsitsipas did it again, beating a big name on a big stage in a big match. Having never won a set before against Rafael Nadal (0-7), Tsitsipas had a shot against the Spaniard on his home soil and on his favorite surface. And he took it beating the 5-time tournament champion 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 to reach his biggest career clay final, second at the Masters level.
“It means the world. I’m really happy that I proved myself today. I played one of my best games this year,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m really happy that I’m fighting, I’m in the zone. I’m enjoying tennis at its fullest potential. It’s really nice to be able to play this way. Today’s victory is just an unbelievable feeling.”
Playing aggressive, going for forehands, whipping backhands and attacking at the net, Tsitsipas made it known early this wasn’t going to another romp for Nadal on the clay.
Rafa came in serving brilliantly and had just tuned Stan Wawrinka yesterday, but the Greek was a different beast.
Nadal looked good early, winning a couple of incredible rallies. Tsitsipas didn’t go away. The 20-year-old dug in breaking Rafa three times in the first set in front of a stunned pro-Rafa crowd.
Behind his serve and forehand, Rafa righted the ship in the second. But surprisingly, the momentum wouldn’t last.
Tsitsipas recharged and broke Rafa two more times in the third to build a 5-2 lead. Serving it out, he faltered but then inexplicably broke Rafa again for the win.
“The mental discipline and being tough and being decisive in all those crucial moments I think was the key,” Tsitsipas said. “I had to take all those opportunities. Rafa is a fighter. He doesn’t give you free points. You’ve got to fight and give your best on every single point.”
Nadal now goes to Rome without a clay title or any title on the year.
“I didn’t have a good feeling today to do the things I wanted to do and that’s all,” Nadal said. “I was clear what I had to do today, but tonight I wasn’t capable of doing it.
“We can try and find as many excuses, or ifs, or possibilities, or whys, but at the end, it’s a matter of playing good tennis and if you play at a good level, I think I would have been able to win today’s match,” Nadal added. “I wasn’t able to play as good as I wanted to play. So, the consequence is that I was not able to win the match.”
Tsitsipas, who now has wins over all of the Big 3 in Masters/Slams, will meet Novak Djokovic Sunday in the final.
Djokovic overcame break deficits in both sets to beat Dominic Thiem 7-6(2), 7-6(4) in a grinding 2 hours, 22 minutes.
“I played the best match of the clay-court season so far, for me, against arguably the best tennis player in the world on this surface, so far,” said Djokovic who failed to serve out the match at 6-5 in the second. “He had an amazing tournament in Barcelona and here he beat Roger yesterday in a thrilling match. So he was in form… I just managed to hold my nerves and play the best when it was most needed.”
Thiem had just beaten Roger Federer yesterday, but couldn’t consolidate either set lead.
“I never complain about 1000 semifinal. It’s a very good result,” said Thiem. “I beat three very good players and I lost to Djokovic… It was a very good tournament and now I will enjoy the doubles.”
Djokovic will seek his 33rd career Masters title (3rd in Madrid), Tsitsipas his first and fourth overall. Tsitsipas has now won his last eight matches going back to his Estoril title a week ago.
“He’s not an easy opponent to play against. He’s in form and a young player who is already Top 10,” said Djokovic. “Hopefully I can be at my best because that is what is going to be needed to win.”
Tsitsipas added, “I have to play the same way. I have to be mentally prepared for a tough match. He’s in a pretty good state of his tennis, so it won’t be easy. He had some good matches coming into the final, so I’m going to have to be ready for that match… I’m sure he wants the title as badly as me.”
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