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Tsitsipas comes of age to beat Nadal

May 12, 2019 09:58 IST

The 20-year-old Greek will meet Novak Djokovic in the final of the Madrid Open

Stefanos Tsitsipas

IMAGE: Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas reacts after defeating Spain's Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open on Saturday. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Stefanos Tsitsipas pulled off one of the biggest wins of his short but remarkable career by beating Rafael Nadal 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 on Spanish soil on Saturday to book his place in the Madrid Open final against world number one Novak Djokovic.

Tsitsipas, 20, had never won a set in his previous three meetings against claycourt specialist and 11-times French Open champion Nadal, but the Greek drew first blood by saving a break point to hold in the 10th game and take the first set.

 

He broke Nadal six times in the epic three-setter played late into the Madrid night, lasting two hours and 34 minutes, while saving 11 of the 16 break points he conceded to his opponent.

Before Nadal met Tsitsipas, he had won 26 of 27 service games in this year's Madrid Open, and the Spaniard had breezed past the youngster in the Barcelona Open final last season and this year's Australian Open semi-finals.

Nadal won the second set and looked to have the physical edge over his opponent, who has also been playing doubles in Madrid.

But Tsitsipas, the Next Gen ATP finals champion, came back stronger in the decider with impressive court coverage and broke Nadal to take a 5-2 lead although he could not immediately serve out for the match.

He earned repeated match points in the next game when Nadal was serving and after the Spaniard had dug deep to save three of them he could only find the net on the fourth.

Tsitsipas dropped his racket and put his hands to his face to savour his first victory over the titan of claycourt tennis, completing a clean sweep of wins over Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer in less than 10 months.

Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas

IMAGE: Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas and Spain's Rafael Nadal meet at the net after the semi-final. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Nadal, meanwhile, was left reflecting on a third straight semi-final exit on clay after losing to Fabio Fognini in the Monte Carlo Masters and Dominic Thiem in the Barcelona Open.

"It means the world, it's really nice to be able to play this way, it's an unbelievable feeling," Tsitsipas told reporters.

"I had to show mental discipline and being tough and decisive in those crucial moments was key, I had to take all opportunities because Rafa is a fighter, he doesn't give you many points."

Djokovic reached the final after seeing off last year's runner-up Dominic Thiem 7-6(2), 7-6(4) in a gruelling, high-quality match lasting two hours 22 minutes.

Tsitsipas beat Djokovic in the Rogers Cup in Toronto and was looking forward to another match with the Serbian.

"I'll have to be mentally prepared for Djokovic, I'm sure he wants the title as badly as me," he added.

Djokovic, winner in Madrid in 2011 and 2016, was fully rested after his quarter-final opponent Marin Cilic had withdrawn because of food poisoning, while Thiem had to dig deep to beat Roger Federer in a gruelling three-setter.

Thiem, who won the Barcelona Open last month and was on an eight-match winning streak, struck an early blow by breaking Djokovic in the fourth game but the Serbian responded by winning the next three games and saved two break points in the eighth.

The Serbian won the first tiebreak comfortably after poor shot selections from Thiem but was in trouble in the second set when he trailed 4-2.

He immediately broke back and had the chance to serve for the match at 6-5 but squandered the opportunity with a double fault.

Yet once again Djokovic had the edge in the tiebreak, earning three match points and taking the first as Thiem smashed a baseline backhand well out, booking his place in a first final since winning the Australian Open.

Bertens earns flawless win over Halep

Kiki Bertens

IMAGE: Kiki Bertens celebrates with the trophy after beating Simona Halep in the final. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Kiki Bertens won the biggest title of her career on Saturday, beating Simona Halep 6-4, 6-4 in the Madrid Open final while also becoming the first woman ever to win the championship without dropping a set.

Making up for her loss in last year's final to Petra Kvitova, the clay court triumph ensured the Dutchwoman Bertens will move to a career-best fourth in the world rankings on Monday and become the highest ranked Dutchwoman in history.

The defeat was extra painful for Halep, though, who would have regained her number one ranking had she won the showpiece.

Bertens came back from 4-2 down in the first set against French Open champion Halep by winning the next three games, striking the first blow in a gripping final full of drama which lasted one hour and 27 minutes.

Bertens, who hit four aces among her 25 winners in an excellent performance, got off to an ideal start in the opening game of the second by breaking Halep, who was playing in her third Madrid final after triumphs in 2016 and 2017.

The Romanian stayed in contention but was dealt a terrible dose of luck in the eighth game which handed more momentum to Bertens.

A shot from Bertens was heading way out and would have handed Halep two break points but the wayward ball struck the Romanian's body, earning her opponent a fortuitous point that eventually led to her holding serve.

"At the beginning I was a little bit searching for my game still, but I think the rest of the match I played really solid, really smart," Bertens told a news conference.

"Maybe a little bit lucky like on the 4-3 game when I hit the ball in the fence and it hit her but sometimes you need a little luck. I'm just happy how I was able to finish the match."

Bertens earned her first championship point with a scorching ace but Halep saved it with a drop volley at the net, only to then hand her rival another one by finding the net with a careless shot.

Bertens missed out again but earned a third championship point when Halep narrowly missed the baseline and she finally seized her ninth WTA title when the world number two hit a backhand out.

It was Bertens' fourth victory over a Grand Slam winner during the week on her way to the title.

"I just feel really happy. I am really proud of this week. I played some good tennis and will be number four in the world on Monday, it is just all amazing things," Bertens added.

Halep had no complaints, congratulating her opponent while admitting she played into Bertens' hands.

"She played better tennis tonight. She deserved to win the match, definitely," she said.

"I think I played wrong, and I'm upset about that. I played stupidly today, I did everything that she liked. It was a good match from her. And she deserved to win the title because she played really good tennis throughout the whole week."

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