Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz get serious challenger in Barcelona

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Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz get serious challenger in Barcelona

World no. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas will compete at the ATP 500 event in Barcelona for the fifth time. Stefanos will challenge Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, two main starts at a rock-solid clay-court event. The Greek lost two finals to Nadal in 2018 and 2021, missing a massive opportunity to lift the famous trophy two years ago after pushing the king of clay to the limits.

Stefanos debuted in Barcelona in 2018 and beat five rivals in straight sets to enter the title clash against Rafa. The home hero proved too strong and notched a 6-2, 6-1 victory in an hour and 18 minutes to lift the trophy.

Nadal fended off all three break chances and kept the pressure on the young gun. Tsitsipas could not match that pace, losing 56% of the points in his games and getting broken five times from the chances offered to Nadal. Three years later, two rivals fought for the title again and embraced one of the season's best encounters.

Rafa ousted Stefanos 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 in three hours and 37 minutes after saving a match point in the decider's tenth game! Nadal defended ten out of 12 break chances and produced four breaks to score one of his most thrilling victories in the last couple of years.

The opening set lasted 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 his 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 confidence.

Stefanos Tsitsipas will seek his first Barcelona Open title in April.

The home favorite opened the court at 3-4 and placed a forehand crosscourt winner to deliver his first break 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.

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

Like in the opener, Tsitsipas had the upper hand in the second set's 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 them 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 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. He saved it and landed 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.

Rafael Nadal Carlos Alcaraz Stefanos Tsitsipas