The quarter-final clash in Barcelona 2017 between Rafael Nadal and a qualifier Hyeon Chung produced one of the best sets on clay that year, with the young Korean pushing the nine-time champion to the limits in the opening set before falling 7-6, 6-2 after an hour and 44 minutes.
The 20-year-old had to qualify for the main draw and played some great tennis once he reached it, beating Denis Istomin, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev in straight sets to set the ultimate clash against Rafael Nadal.
Overall, it was another masterclass performance from the Spaniard, especially from his forehand wing, managing to regroup after a slow start and a break down to turn the first set into his favor and race through the second to advance to the semi-final.
Nonetheless, Chung made Rafa run for his money in the opening set that lasted 64 minutes. The Korean made an early break in game three that Nadal got back at 2-3, with the rivals staying neck and neck until the tie break where the more experienced player had the upper hand, taking it 7-1.
Besides impressive defensive skills, Chung was also very effective in the rallies, avoiding the lengthy exchanges (70% of the points ended with eight shots or less) and trying to keep Nadal out from his comfort zone, not an easy task against such a strong rival.
The youngster also fired 12 service winners to grab some much-needed free points, staying toe to toe with Rafa in the shortest rallies and setting the decisive battleground in the more extended ones. Hyeon opted to play most of his shots in the safest way across the middle of the net but Nadal's forehand was ready for all the challenges, blasting 15 winners from that wing and dictating the pace that eventually broke Chung's game, as Korean couldn't keep the pace with the mighty rival after that first set's tie break.
Rafa dropped just 16 points in ten service games, experiencing two troubled games and suffering one break. On the other hand, he clinched 44% of the return points, breaking Chung three times from five chances to control the scoreboard in set number two and move over the finish line.
Hyeon had 12 service winners (only three in the second set), two more than Nadal who had a clear advantage in the winners from the field department where he reigned 21-12. Rafa's forehand was just lethal, hitting 15 winners from that shot alone and adding five more from his volleys at the net.
Nadal had 17 unforced errors, kicking some loose forehands in the latter stages of the encounter when he was already clear in front, while Chung made 25, missing equally from his forehand and backhand wing. Forced errors were also on Nadal's side, committing 12 in comparison to 16 from Chung.
The Korean stayed in touch in the shortest rallies up to four strokes (30-27 for Rafa) but Nadal made the most significant difference in the mid-range exchanges from five to eight shots, taking 22 out of 34. In the most extended rallies, the Spaniard had a 22-15 lead, earning the triumph and staying on the title course.
The encounter kicked off at a steady pace from both sides, with Nadal blasting four service winners in the opening game and Chung who responded with a hold at love, the best possible way to start the battle against the toughest possible rival on clay.
From 30-0 up in game three, Nadal got broken after spraying four errors, allowing Hyeon to open a 3-1 advantage with another solid hold, controlling the points with his forehand and moving Nadal from the comfort zone. Rafa pulled the break back at 2-3 with a fantastic forehand down the line winner, swinging over the baseline in those moments with reliable and precise groundstrokes.
Chung still had a positive result but his abilities to drive Nadal's off from his forehand were slowly fading away, leaving him with fewer and fewer options from the baseline. Both players served well in the next four games and the set was turning into an open war before the tie break.
Chung had a 30-0 lead on the return at 5-5 and a break chance that Nadal fended off with another forehand winner to stay alive. In the end, the Spaniard held and we saw another deuce in game 12 on Chung's serve before he brought the game home to set up a tie break.
Nadal opened it strongly, forging a 3-0 lead after a fantastic reaction on the volley, continuing to dictate the points with his forehand to clinch the breaker 7-1 and gain a massive boost. Nadal struggled on his second serve more than Chung but his first worked very well, together with the forehand that earned the set for him.
Chung had nine service winners in comparison to Nadal's six (Rafa had just two unreturned serves after that opening game) while the Spaniard collected 17 winners from the field, a significant number even for such a long set, while Hyeon had just eight.
The Korean made 13 unforced errors, three more than Spaniard, and the number of forced errors was almost the same, 9-8 for Rafa in that segment. Carried by the momentum from the tie break, Nadal broke early in the second set after forcing an error from Chung, with that game indicating the beginning of the end for the Korean despite his valiant efforts.
Nadal served great, dropping just six points in four service games and taking advantage of more and more errors from Hyeon who couldn't follow the rival's pace anymore. The fifth game turned out to be the longest of the match and Nadal broke after another unforced error from the youngster (Hyeon also had two double faults) to cement the place in the semis. Rafa sealed the deal with an ace at 5-2, proving to be too strong for Chung after a high-quality contest in the opener.