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Nadal ends run of semifinal defeats with revenge victory over Tsitsipas in Rome

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 18 May 2019
  • Rafael Nadal ends run of semifinal defeats with win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rome
  • Nadal's 6-3, 6-4 win over Tsitsipas puts him into 50th Masters final of career
Rafael Nadal celebrates victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals of the Rome Masters (PA Sport)

Rafael Nadal ends run of semifinal defeats with revenge victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rome.

'King of Clay' Rafael Nadal has finally made a final on his favourite surface in 2019 after scoring an impressive victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals of the Rome Masters.

Nadal, an eight-time champion in Rome, beat Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 to reach his eleventh final at the Foro Italico.

'I played a little bit better than him,' Nadal said. 'What I had to do is play well. Last week I didn't play very well in Madrid. Today I did better.'

Nadal was on determined form against Tsitsipas in Rome (PA Sport)
Tsitsipas had beaten Nadal in three sets a week ago in Madrid, the third in a string of surprising semifinal defeats suffered by the 11-time French Open champion after losing to Fabio Fognini at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and Dominic Thiem at the Barcelona Open, both tournaments where Nadal was seeking his 12 title.

But Nadal has been on particularly crushing form at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia: On Thursday, a day when most players had to play two matches in one day because of rain having washed out play completely on Wednesday, Nadal lost just two games in two matches against Jeremy Chardy and Nikoloz Basilashvili; on Friday, he beat Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-0, marking the first time in his career he had recorded bagel sets in three consecutive matches. (He has gone on to win the tournament on each previous occasion.)

And on Saturday against Tsitsipas Nadal made it clear from the beginning that although the same two players were facing off across the net, things were going to be very different from Madrid. Tsitsipas opened with a flashy forehand winner for 0-15, but Nadal battered the Greek's single-handed backhand in a very lengthy rally and went on to hold as he remorselessly hammered Tsitsipas back from the baseline. Then he immediately broke to love, raining down deep balls to get swiftly to 0-40; on the first break point, Tsitsipas climbed on top of the rally, but instead of going into the open court with the short ball, he tried to wrongfoot Nadal by going back to him cross-court. Nadal was ready and waiting to rip the ball up the line with his forehand for a winner to lead 2-0. 

The fist pump with which Nadal celebrated was only a small one, but you could see the vehemence that was being restrained throughout his body and it was plain that the King of Clay was here to get the win. 

Tsitsipas shows his frustration (PA Sport)
Tsitsipas actually earned a point to break back as Nadal tried to consolidate the break at 2-0 and netted a forehand, and succeeded in getting Nadal on the run with a short-angled backhand, but once more he went back to Nadal instead of into the open court and again Nadal read the play and was waiting, whipping the forehand down the line. Nadal saved a second break point and went on to hold for 3-0 after a service game that lasted over nine minutes, and the match honestly never really felt like it was in the balance from that point onwards.

Both men found a secure rhythm on serve as the set went on,but Tsitsipas never got near breaking Nadal back until Nadal served for the set. Even then, the Spaniard held from 0-30 to take a 6-3 lead. Hitting the ball with much greater conviction than he did in Madrid and achieving much better depth on the court, Nadal kept Tsitsipas from using his single-handed backhand to dictate points; instead the Greek found himself constantly having to hit that shot under pressure, which eventually elicited a short ball that Nadal could put away or an error that ended the point. Tsitsipas defended well but constantly had to scramble behind the baseline, not a winning position against Nadal for anyone except perhaps Novak Djokovic, and although he attacked the net frequently, Nadal chased a lot of balls down and produced the winning ripostes he'd lacked in Madrid, where he had made a number of uncharacteristic errors at the net. 

'Today when I was hitting the forehand, he was not able to hit his forehand. Last week when I was hitting the forehand, he still had the chance to go for the shots with his forehand. [That is] something that could not happen today if I wanted to have success,' Nadal said. 

'When I achieve that goal, I start to open the court with the backhand against his forehand, too. I was able to change down the line with the forehand. My return was a little bit more inside than last week.'

Tsitsipas was broken to trail 1-2 in the second set, after which he accused the umpire of always calling balls against him, and Nadal showed no vulnerability as he charged towards the finishing line, eventually wrapping up a 6-3, 6-4 win in an hour and 43 minutes.

'I felt very close, despite the two-set loss,' Tsitsipas said. 'I'm just trying to realise what I did wrong because it was just one break in each set, if I'm not wrong. If that wouldn't happen, you never know.'

Had Nadal lost to Tsitsipas, it would have been the first time in his career that he came into the French Open without having won a single clay-court title that season. Now he has given himself a great opportunity to claim a ninth Rome Masters title, as he waits to find out whether it will be Novak Djokovic or Diego Schwartzman who faces him across the net in Sunday's final.

'[It] is [an] important victory for me because I played a solid match against a good player and a player who is winning lot of matches on this surface,' Nadal said. 'So winning in straight sets against him is a very positive result. More than this is a feeling that I am playing better every week, every day. That's important for me.'

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Nadal ends run of semifinal defeats with revenge victory over Tsitsipas in Rome

Rafael Nadal ended a streak of three consecutive semifinal defeats by avenging his Madrid loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas, ousting the Greek 6-3, 6-4 to reach his 50th Masters final in Rome

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