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Nadal vs Tsitsipas ATP Madrid SF Preview, Predictions and Live Streaming: Nadal seeks first clay-court final of the season

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 11 May 2019
  • Rafael Nadal vs Stefanos Tsitsipas is live from Madrid on Saturday, 11 May from 9:00pm local time/ 8:00pm BST
  • Nadal leads the head-to-head 3-0, 7-0 in sets
Rafael Nadal. (Photo: ALTERPHOTOS/A. Perez Meca/Sipa USA)

Rafael Nadal seeks his first clay-court final of the season when he takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Madrid Open on Saturday.

Nadal is looking to avoid a third straight semi-final defeat on clay, having fallen at the same stage to Fabio Fognini and Dominic Thiem in Monte Carlo and Barcelona respectively.

Nadal lost two clay-court matches between 2017 and 2018, but he matched that number inside a week of the 2019 clay-court season, raising concerns over the Spaniard’s form. However, the King of Clay signaled a return to form in Madrid on Friday night, when he took out Stan Wawrinka 6-1 6-2 in the quarter finals in a performance that mirrored the sort of dominance he enjoyed on the surface in the last couple of seasons, when he went 50-2 on clay.

In truth, Wawrinka was well short of his best, but a lot of that had to do with the quality of tennis produced by Nadal. The five-time Madrid champion was typically dogged in defence and decisive in offense; devastating with the forehand and rock solid with the backhand. Wawrinka opened with intent, unfurling six winners to Nadal's none within the first three games, but Nadal slowly ramped up the pressure, and the Swiss cracked with a double fault to drop his serve in the fourth game. Nadal ran through the next three games to take the opening set. The world No. 2 continued to bang on the door in the second set, and after seeing five break points come and go, he converted at the sixth opportunity to take a 3-2 lead. There was an air of finality about that moment, and so it proved as the great Spaniard cruised to the finish line to take his place in the Madrid semi-finals. 

"It was a very positive match”, Nadal reflected. “I'm very happy with the way that I played and in general terms, it was a great performance," Nadal said. "I'm happy, it was an important moment for me and I'm really happy to be through this way."

The 32-year-old old has made the last four without dropping a set, beating a pair of Next Gen stars, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Frances Tiafoe, before Friday night's masterclass against Wawrinka.

Adding Indian Wells, where he withdrew from a scheduled semi-final meeting with Roger Federer, Nadal is actually looking to avoid a fourth consecutive semi-final exit on the tour. He had opened his season with a runner-up finish to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, while he crashed to Nick Kyrgios in the second round in Acapulco in his only other appearance in 2019. The Spaniard's title drought stretches back to August last year, with his most recent title coming in Toronto, but to be fair, injuries have played a big part in the drought. His last tournament in 2018 was the US Open, while he's also spent time away from the tour this year, missing the opening week of the season with a thigh complaint, and taking a short break after Indian Wells with a knee problem.

He looked very fit against Wawrinka on Friday night- can he now progress to his first final since the Australian Open by taking down Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday?

In the time between Nadal's last title success in August and now, Tsitsipas has won three ATP titles, crowning a breakthrough 2018 with victory in Antwerp, and consolidating with more success in Marseille and Estoril in 2019. Tsitsipas also made his maiden major semi-final earlier this year at the Australian Open, while he reached another final in Dubai- a result which took the rising Greek into the top-ten.

Given that he had not won a match in Madrid prior to 2019, Tsitsipas' run to the last four will further consolidate his top-ten position, with the Greek projected to move back into eighth next Monday. If he beats Nadal and makes the final, he will reach a new career-high ranking of seventh.

Tsitsipas goes into Saturday's semi-final on a seven-match winning streak, having won four matches in Estoril last week, and three more in Madrid. He eased his way into the tournament with consecutive straight sets victories over Adrian Mannarino and Fernando Verdasco, before coming through a high-octane three-set battle with last year's winner, Alexander Zverev on Friday. There's a brewing rivalry between 22-year-old Zverev and 20-year-old Tsitsipas, with both leading the way in the ATP’s Next Gen class (even though Zverev is now above the official age limit for that category), and Tsitsipas landed another big blow on Friday to take a 2-1 lead in their series.

A dramatic start saw Tsitsipas fail to take three break points in the opening game, and Zverev receiving a time violation warning- which didn't go down well with the German- but the contest soon settled down, with both men finding a nice rhythm on serve- until Zverev produced a poor game at 5-5. The German sent consecutive forehands into the net to drop his serve, and Tsitsipas gleefully accepted the gift, confidently closing out the set in the next game.

There was nothing to choose between the players in the first three games of the second set, but sparked by a fine tweener-winner combination, Zverev produced an inspired finish, winning the last nine points to take the set and forced a decider. With momentum behind him, the defending champion pushed for the early break in the final set, but Tsitsipas showed remarkable resilience to save three break points en route holding for 2-1- via some fearless aggressive tennis- and the Greek was rewarded for his industry in the next game when Zverev gifted another poor service game, featuring two double faults, to give up the break.

Tsitsipas was not letting this one slip, and he broke again in the eight game to seal a famous win. In the end, he was rewarded for his extra aggression, as he went for his shots from the back of the court, especially on the forehand wing, and constantly attacked the net- once again showing off his terrific skills at the forecourt.

“I'm really happy and satisfied with my performance. I think I deserved the match at the end. I was playing really well, feeling really comfortable on the court. When you feel like this, you can do miracles. So I'm really enjoying the process, really enjoying my stay here until now, and I really hope to do even better in the future,” Tsitsipas said.

Can he follow that up with a huge win over Nadal in Saturday's semi-final?

Nadal and Tsitsipas have seen quite a bit of each other in the last year, with the Spaniard holding a 3-0 lead. He defeated the Greek in the Barcelona and Toronto finals last season, and took him out in the semi-finals of the Australian Open- all in straight sets.

"He's playing well. He won last week in Estoril and he's already won a lot of good matches this week", Nadal said about Tsitsipas. "He comes to that semi-final with plenty of confidence. It's going to be a tough one, I hope to be ready for it," Nadal said. "I'll need to play my best. Today was a good example. I need to continue tomorrow, that's the goal."

Again, it's a match-up that favours Nadal, with his famous forehand going into Tsitsipas' one handed backhand, and given the way he hit that forehand against Wawrinka, it could be a very tough night for Tsitsipas.

If the Greek young gun is to pull off an unlikely win, he's got to serve extremely well, and continue being aggressive (which I'm sure will be the game plan), but will Nadal's suffocating play allow Tsitsipas to execute?

Rafael Nadal vs Stefanos Tsitsipas is live from Madrid on Saturday, 11 May from 9:00pm local time/ 8:00pm BST

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Nadal vs Tsitsipas ATP Madrid SF Preview, Predictions and Live Streaming: Nadal seeks first clay-court final of the season

Rafael Nadal will attempt to reach his first clay-court final of 2019 when he takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid on Saturday. Read our preview, predictions and stream the match live online.

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