2021 in Review: Rafael Nadal edges Stefanos Tsitsipas in one of season's best matches

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2021 in Review: Rafael Nadal edges Stefanos Tsitsipas in one of season's best matches

Competing in his 12th Barcelona Open final, Rafael Nadal defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 in three hours and 37 minutes after saving a match point in the decider's tenth game! Thus, Nadal remained undefeated in the title matches at one of his favorite ATP events where the central court carries his name, lifting the 87th ATP title and the first since October last year and Roland Garros.

It was one of the season's most entertaining matches, with two rivals pushing each other to the limits from start to finish. Nadal defended ten out of 12 break chances and produced four breaks to move over the top and score one of his most thrilling victories in the last couple of years.

The opening set lasted for almost an hour, and Nadal battled past five out of six break opportunities and a 4-2 deficit to claim it 6-4 and gain a massive advantage. Tsitsipas had the upper hand in the early stages, doing everything right on serve and return and keeping Nadal away from the comfort zone.

Still, the Greek lost that pace after a nice hold in game six and allowed the Spaniard to take charge and produce a comeback. The 11-time champion held in the opening game with a service winner before spraying a forehand mistake in game three to suffer a break at love.

Playing excellent tennis in those moments, Stefanos held with ease in games four and six and created two break chances at 3-1 that could have sent him further ahead. Nadal saved those and held at 30 in game seven to remain within one break deficit and gain some confidence.

The home favorite opened the court at 3-4 and placed a forehand crosscourt winner to deliver his first break of the match and level the score at 4-4. Like many times that week, Rafa lost focus in the crucial moments and offered three break chances to Stefanos in game nine that could have cost him dearly.

Rafael Nadal had to give his best to beat the young Greek in three sets.

The Spaniard repelled them all and held with a service winner in one of the encounter's pivotal moments. Returning in game ten, Nadal scored a break at 15 when Stefanos sprayed a forehand error to steal the set and move closer to the finish line.

Like the opener, Tsitsipas had the upper hand in the early stages, holding comfortably in games two and four and stealing Rafa's serve in game three with a forehand down the line winner. The Spaniard bounced back with a break in game six after forcing the Greek's error and created two match points on the return at 4-5.

Eager to extend the battle, Stefanos saved those and leveled the score before earning a massive 40-0 lead in the next game. With no room for errors, Nadal saved all three break points and held after forcing the rival's error for 6-5.

Tsitsipas held at 30 in game 12 to introduce a tie break, the one he had to take. From 4-2 down, Stefanos won four straight points and opened a 6-4 gap. Nadal saved the first set point with an excellent point at the net and the second with a forehand down the line winner for 6-6.

Suddenly, the home favorite hit a double fault in the 13th point, and Tsitsipas closed the set with a service winner to force a decider. They stayed neck and neck and held at love in games seven and eight for real drama well after passing a three-hour mark.

Serving at 4-5, Nadal made a couple of terrible forehand errors to face a match point, saving it and landing a volley winner to lock the score at 5-5. Rafa placed a perfect drop shot winner in game 11 to create break chances and seized the fourth to move in front after Stefanos' forehand mistake. Serving at 6-5, Nadal saved a break chance and brought an epic match home to celebrate the title.