Mon, May 13, 2019 - Page 10 News List

‘I have not played well enough,’ says Nadal; Tsitsipas reaches Madrid final

AFP, MADRID

Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas celebrates after defeating Spain’s Rafael Nadal in their ATP Madrid Open semi-final at the Caja Magica in Madrid, Spain, on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday clambered his way to the Madrid Open finals after the 20-year-old Greek stunned Rafael Nadal to win a thrilling semi-final 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 on his fourth match point.

Nadal had been a clear favorite to face Djokovic in yesterday’s showpiece at Caja Magica, but the 17-time Grand Slam champion extended his stuttering build-up to the French Open with another surprise defeat.

Tsitsipas’ surprise victory brought him to his fourth ATP final of the season, while vindicating those pegging him as a future star of the men’s game.

“Emotionally it was very tough, it was one of my toughest wins,” Tsitsipas said.

It might be too early to expect the world No. 9 to challenge at Roland Garros later this month but, with a fearless style and formidable forehand, he is developing a habit for delivering on the big stage.

In January, he ousted Roger Federer from the Australian Open and, as well as Nadal, has beaten Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, both twice, and Djokovic, whom he played on a hard court in Canada last year and prevailed in three sets.

Tsitsipas should draw confidence from those results ahead of the final, but even more so from having overcome Nadal on clay, which Djokovic had earlier described as the “ultimate challenge” following his own 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/4) victory over Dominic Thiem.

By his own high standards, Nadal’s clay-court swing has been disappointing. He lost his past four clay-court matches, in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and arrived in Madrid without having won either tournament for the first time since 2015.

“I have not played well enough,” Nadal said. “I’ve won a lot for many years on this surface, but this year, it hasn’t been like that.”

Few would bet against the Spaniard claiming a 12th success in Paris, but the showings of Djokovic, and Thiem, in this tournament suggests that it is far from a foregone conclusion.

Djokovic enhanced his credentials as perhaps the greatest threat by edging past Thiem, who took down Nadal en route to clinching the trophy in Barcelona last month and had also knocked out Federer in the Madrid quarter-finals.

“I thought coming into the match, he was the favorite to win it,” Djokovic said. “So that’s why it’s a great win for me.”

Djokovic had also stuttered, enduring early exits in Indian Wells, Miami and then Monte Carlo, but Thiem found the 31-year-old close to his best. It was a timely reminder of why Djokovic has won the past three Grand Slam titles and would hold all four concurrently if he were to win his 16th at the French Open.

“He’s getting back to his 100 percent again,” Thiem said. “The closer it comes to the Grand Slams, the better he’ll play — and we are pretty close to the French Open.”

Nadal seemed to have the momentum after winning 13 out of 16 points at the end of the second set, but he spurned two break points in the decider before Tsitsipas broke twice for 5-2.

Still, Nadal fought back breaking back once and then saving three match points, the last after a nerve-shredding drop-shot. However, a missed volley followed and, at the fourth time of asking, a relieved Tsitsipas finally got over the line when a weary Nadal backhand hit the net.

Djokovic proved too good in both tie-breaks against Thiem, but offered the shot of the match at 4-4 in the first set. Scrambling into his backhand corner, he not only retrieved the approach, but turned it into a brilliant lob that landed on the opposite baseline.

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