Rafael Nadal is a proud winner of 86 ATP titles, enough for the fourth place in the Open era. Eighty-four of those came on outdoor events and only two with a roof above his head, with Nadal never being a fan of indoor conditions.
Rafa's only indoor hard title came in Madrid 2005 following that epic final versus Ivan Ljubicic that went down to the wire. While reaching the title clash at the Paris Masters, the ATP Finals, Basel and Rotterdam, Rafa has been waiting for another indoor ATP crown for 15 years, unable to break the spell this week in the French capital.
Competing at the Paris Masters for the eighth time, Rafa reached the eighth quarter-final following tight wins over compatriots Feliciano Lopez and Pablo Carreno Busta. The 20-time Major champion lost the opening set of both encounters after a pale performance on the return, bouncing back in the second to gather momentum ahead of the decider.
Thirteen years after making the final on a debut, Nadal had a nice chance of reaching another Parisian final, denied by Alexander Zverev, who ousted him 6-4, 7-5 in the semis. The German came to Paris with back-to-back titles at home in Cologne on an indoor court, extending the winning streak and delivering the second triumph over Rafa within a year, both at these conditions.
The return was a massive problem for Rafa this week and that was the case against Zverev too, failing to return 30% of Zverev's serves and stealing only one break. It wasn't enough to stay safe after losing serve thrice, struggling to find his A-game and suffering the fourth semi-final loss in Paris.
The German had 37 winners (20 more than Rafa) and 18 unforced errors, staying focused in the second set's closing stages to seal the deal and reach the seventh Masters 1000 final. Alexander drew first blood with a break in game three, confirming it with a service winner to open a 3-1 gap after 14 minutes.
Rafael Nadal has been waiting for an indor ATP title since 2005!
Nadal landed a backhand down the line winner at 2-4 to remain within one break deficit before Zverev claimed the opener with a drop shot winner at 5-4 and gathered a boost ahead of set number two.
Rafa got broken at 1-1 after a weak volley at the net and wasted two break chances in game six, denied by Zverev's two winners. Serving at 2-4, Nadal fended off four break points to stay alive, gaining confidence and looking much better after his first break in game eight.
Rafa held at love at 4-4 to forge the advantage, sending the pressure to the other side of the court but gaining no chances behind Alexander's serve in game ten. The German secured the game with an ace and earned a break chance in the next one after a lucky net cord winner.
Nadal got broken when his backhand landed wide, and Zverev held at 15 a few minutes later to seal the deal and advance into the third straight ATP final. "Why I never won here in Paris? The surface is difficult, and, generally, it's my first indoor tournament.
But you can't say it's not normal that I didn't win a Masters 1000 event. You have the best players in the world against you, and you have to accept the defeat when the opponent is better than you," Rafael Nadal said.