For the 20-time Major champion Rafael Nadal, reaching the latter stages at the Paris Masters was never a problem if he was healthy. Still, the Spaniard is yet to go all the way and lift one of the rare titles he is missing in his rich collection, suffering the semi-final loss to Alexander Zverev last November and missing the event this year.
Returning to Paris a few weeks after lifting the 20th Major title 13 months ago, Nadal could not find his A-game. The Spaniard struggled a lot on the return in all four matches, scoring three wins before hitting the exit door following a 6-4, 7-5 loss to an in-form German.
Nadal had to dig deep against Feliciano Lopez and Pablo Carreno Busta to find himself in the last four and stood no chance against Zverev, who came to Paris after taking back-to-back indoor titles at home in Cologne. Earning his second-straight triumph over Rafa on an indoor court, Alexander fired 13 aces and saved two out of three break chances and delivered three breaks to move over the top in straight sets.
The German landed 37 winners and 18 unforced errors, hitting 20 winners more than Rafa and an unreturned serve in 30% of all the points behind the initial shot. Zverev overpowered Nadal in the shortest and most extended exchanges, standing strong when it mattered the most to advance into the seventh Masters 1000 final.
The younger player grabbed a break at love in the opener's third game after forcing an error from the 20-time Major champion and fired a booming serve for a 3-1 lead after 14 minutes. Nadal painted a backhand down the line winner in game seven to stay in touch and hoped for some opportunities on the return in the rest of the set.
Rafael Nadal suffered a loss at the last year's Paris Masters to Zverev.
Instead, Zverev brought the tenth game home at 15 with a drop shot winner for 6-4 in 38 minutes. Rafa squandered a game point at 1-1 in set number two and suffered a break when his volley failed to pass the net.
The Spaniard created his first break chances in game six, wasting both after a couple of winners from Zverev, who opened a 4-2 gap with another booming serve. Rafa faced an ultimate test on serve in game seven, with four break opportunities up for grabs for the German.
Regaining composure, Nadal erased them and held after forcing an error from the younger opponent. What he missed in game six, Rafa fixed at 3-4 when Zverev sprayed a forehand error, leveling the score at 4-4 with his first break and gathering a boost.
Nadal held at love for the first time in game nine to move in front and sent the pressure to the other side. Feeling none of it, Alexander landed an ace to grab game ten and earned a break chance in the next one after a lucky net cord winner.
Nadal gave serve away when his backhand landed wide, and Zverev held at 15 to seal the deal and advance into the third straight ATP final. "It has been a positive tournament for me. Of course, I'm not happy about the loss, but that's part of the game.
I spent hours on court, hoping to win the tournament for the first time, but it's always tricky. I had the right attitude and fought in every match during the whole event. That gave me a chance to play four matches, which should be helpful for London," Rafael Nadal said.