Rafael Nadal made a debut in Beijing as a teenager in 2005 and he won the title at first visit, also losing additional two finals to Novak Djokovic in 2013 and 2015. Spaniard never lost before the quarters here and he barely escaped to do that for the first time this year, saving match points against Lucas Pouille in the marathon first round match.
After surviving that one, Rafa defeated Karen Khachanov to book the quarter-final clash with John Isner, and he toppled the giant server by 6-4 7-6 in an hour and 43 minutes, scoring his 7th win over the American in as many matches.
Playing against John was never easy for Rafa (he is not the only one, of course), even on clay, but he always emerged as a winner, and this Beijing encounter wasn't a walk as well, as he broke the American only once in the entire match.
It was a solid match overall, with some nice points and mostly attacking tennis, but it was Nadal who controlled the result almost all the time, taming his shots and doing enough on the return to prevail in straight sets.
Spaniard had to overcome 36 service winners from his rival, and he did that from his ground, conquering the baseline area to leave John without an answer, despite all the efforts. American committed 38 errors in total, compared to only 10 from his rival, and he couldn't compensate that only with his serve.
Of course, Isner knew he can't outplay Nadal in the long or even mid-range rallies and he tried everything to keep the points short, but that risky game always draws mistakes as well, and John just made too many of those.
As always, Nadal covered the court brilliantly, with a smart shot selection and a nice game plan that forced his opponent to hit one extra shot all the time. In addition, we saw some really effective mixing from the Spaniard, choosing the right moment to defend, attack or bring John to the net with drop shots.
John served at 79%, which he could only wish for before the start of the match, but even with so many unreturnable serves he blasted he wasn't safe in his games, facing 4 break points and dropping serve once, which cost him the opening set.
Nadal stayed focused, waiting for his chance on the return patiently, and he literally fought for every point on John's serve, allowing him only 3 service games without losing more than 1 point. Spaniard won 31% of the first serve returns, which was extremely important, and service winners and double faults aside, he won 25 out of the 35 points, leaving John in all kind of troubles every time he made a successful return.
Nadal served at only 59% but he got the most from his initial shot, dropping just 16 points in 11 service games, saving all 3 break points to keep his serve intact. Spaniard won 23 out of 28 points on his second serve, which could hardly be better, and this is one the key elements in his victory, placing them out of John's reach and avoiding further troubles in his games.
It was 36-19 for Isner in service winners, which was nothing new, but Nadal had a 20-16 advantage in the direct points from the field, hitting with similar efficiency from both wings, something John failed to follow. The American built a healthy advantage thanks to so many unreturnable serves, but that all vanished when we got to the errors department.
Nadal finished the match with just 8 unforced errors, 19 less than his rival, who was missing equally from both forehand and backhand, unable to penetrate his rival or open the court for less risky strokes. In addition, Isner had 11 forced errors while Nadal stayed on just 2, which illustrates how well the Spaniard played from the baseline.
Out of all strokes he played in 84 points without a service winner or a double fault, Rafa failed to bring the ball across the net only 10 times, and Isner could never bring his baseline game up to that level to endure the rallies with a mighty rival.
John had a slim 49-46 advantage in the shortest points up to 4 strokes, mainly thanks to those service winners, but everything else was on Nadal's side, who had more and more chance to win the point with every additional stroke in the exchange.
He was 25-13 in front in the mid-range rallies from 5 to 8 shots, and 8-0 in the longest rallies, which was expected. Out of 46 points that reached the 5th stroke, Nadal has won 33, more than enough to secure the triumph for him.
Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: