Stefanos Tsitsipas played perhaps the best tennis of his career to reach the Mutua Madrid Open final, but didn't have an answer to the relentless baseline play of Novak Djokovic in Sunday's championship match.
But Tsitsipas went two breaks up in the decider and converted his fourth match point to make Nadal, who has fallen at the semi-final stage in his three clay-court tournaments this year, wait for a place in a 50th Masters showpiece.
"He knew I had a tough match last night, so he took advantage of that by making me run and suffer - I just didn't have solutions".
He had already failed to reach the final in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, tournaments he had won the last three consecutive seasons.
In the Madrid Open finals, Tsitsipas will face the World Number one, Novak Djokovic.
"He played quite smart, moving me around the court".
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It was the third straight semifinal elimination for Nadal, adding to his worst start to the clay swing since 2015.
The Greek, who beat Djokovic in their previous meeting last summer in Canada, was broken once in each set, enough of a margin for the top seed to take the trophy, his second of the season after the Australian Open.
Is Dominic Thiem ready to knock off the Big Three and win his first French Open title, or should you bet the field? But Djokovic has a peerless ability to smother those fizzing bombs as they rear up off the surface - a skill honed during his seven wins over Nadal on clay.
"It's a very long way to that and I understand you want to visualize that and discuss that".
"This is a very important win for me, especially for my confidence", 15-time Grand Slam victor Djokovic said. He had not won in Madrid since 2016, with his other title in the Spanish capital coming in 2011. "I've been very lucky".
The ninth-ranked Tsitsipas, the tour's form player in 2019 with 27 victories, lacked the intensity and aggressiveness that he showed against second-ranked Nadal and was overpowered by Djokovic. "I mean, we can both lose before finals", said Djokovic on their chances of clashing in Paris. "It's not been a good match", Rafael Nadal said."I fought and did a couple of good things mentally. She deserved to win the match, definitely", Halep said. Roger Federer will also be in the mix, along with players like Thiem and Tsitsipas. He was beaten by Nadal in the Australian Open semifinals for his best-ever showing in a Grand Slam.