06:45 PM GMT May 11, 2019
Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas earned one of the biggest wins of his career on Saturday, defeating five-time champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 to reach the final of the Mutua Madrid Open.
"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."
It is the three-time ATP Tour titlist’s second ATP Masters 1000 final, after also making the championship match at the Rogers Cup last year, losing to Nadal. Thanks to his victory, the 20-year-old is projected climb to a career-high ATP Ranking of at least No. 7 on Monday pending his result against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the final.
Entering this match, Nadal had won all three of his FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Tsitsipas, claiming all seven sets they had played with only two of those sets going past 6-2. But Tsitsipas showed no fear of his opponent or the moment at the Caja Magica, playing aggressively throughout to triumph on his fourth match point after two hours and 34 minutes. He has now won eight consecutive matches.
"You cannot imagine the relief. It's unbelievable. I don't want to say this, but it almost felt like I lost hope at some point. [I lost] three in a row [against him]," Tsitsipas said. "I felt in Toronto when I played him I was very close and this match kind of gave me a bit of confidence I can do it in the future, but then it was too much. [I'm] really happy that I overcame this and dealt with it mentally. Beating him on clay makes it even more special"
Nadal held 26 of his 27 service games in Madrid to get to the last four. But Tsitsipas set the tone with an immediate service break, and he broke the Spaniard's serve three times in the opener to show the second seed and the crowd that he was ready to challenge the five-time champion. Overall, the 20-year-old broke serve six times, while saving 11 of the 16 break points he faced.
"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 dug into the Spanish clay after losing the opening set, winning his first two service games of the second set to love to change the momentum, moving his feet constantly to put himself in a position to thump his forehand and keep Tsitsipas from playing aggressively. The Spaniard broke twice and held all four of his service games to force a decider.
When many players may have wilted against both the physicality of Nadal's game or the pressure of the stage, Tsitsipas continued to step into the court, taking the Spaniard's topspin groundstrokes as early as he could and venturing to net plenty. Although Tsitsipas could not serve out the match at 5-2, he broke for the third time in the set to finish the match, dropping his racquet to the court after Nadal missed a backhand into the net.
Tsitsipas leads the ATP Tour with 27 match wins (27-9) this season, and with his triumphs in Marseille and Estoril, the 20-year-old is one of four players to capture multiple trophies thus far in 2019. Last year, Tsitsipas lost in the first round of the main draw in Madrid as the 40th player in the ATP Rankings. On Sunday, he will look to extend his FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead against Djokovic to 2-0, after also defeating the Serbian in Toronto.
"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," Tsitsipas said. "I'm sure he wants the title as badly as me."
Nadal was trying to reach his 50th ATP Masters 1000 final, and his ninth final in Madrid. The second seed is still pursuing his first trophy in 2019.
"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."
Did You Know?
Tsitsipas prevailed in the match, but Nadal won six more points than the #NextGenATP Greek.