Young Stefanos Tsitsipas: 'Facing Rafael Nadal in multiple ATP finals is tough'

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Young Stefanos Tsitsipas: 'Facing Rafael Nadal in multiple ATP finals is tough'

After winning the Monte Carlo title and reaching the Barcelona Open final, Stefanos Tsitsipas is ready for more at the Madrid Open, standing as one of the favorites alongside Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem. Tsitsipas had his first notable season in 2018, finishing the season inside the top-15 and preparing an even stronger run in 2019.

Competing in his seventh Masters 1000 tournament in Toronto 2018, an upcoming star from Greece had to dig deep to earn a notable result. Stefanos played on a high level against Dominic Thiem and a former champion Novak Djokovic, never losing serve and meeting the last year's winner Alexander Zverev in the quarters.

The German had the match in his hands, opening a 6-3, 5-2 advantage and wasting two match points in the second set tie break to suffer a massive 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 loss and propel Tsitsipas into the semis. Still a teenager, Stefanos became the youngest player with four top-10 victories at a single event since the ATP Tour's formation in 1990, saving another match point in a tight 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 win over Kevin Anderson.

Already gathering enough points to crack the top-20, Tsitsipas played for the Masters 1000 title against Rafael Nadal on his 20th birthday. Unwilling to gift his rival anything, the Spaniard claimed a 6-2, 7-6 triumph to leave Stefanos with the runner-up prize after a great week.

Stefanos had taken only three games against Rafa in the title match in Barcelona in April and couldn't find the winning formula in Toronto either. It was the 33rd Masters 1000 crown for Nadal, toppling the youngest Masters 1000 finalist since Novak Djokovic in Miami 2007 and winning the 40th out of 43 encounters in 2018.

Stefanos took 12 points on the return, and a few of those came in the second set's tenth game when he broke back to prolong the set, and at 6-5 when Rafa had to save a set point.

Stefanos Tsitsipas lost two finals in 2018 to Rafael Nadal, in Barcelona and Toronto.

It was a marvelous performance from Nadal until 6-2 5-4, sailing through his service games and dominating with his forehand to have the upper hand from the baseline.

Despite that shaky period in the last part of the clash, he finished the match with 27 winners and 20 unforced errors, leaving Tsitsipas on 15 direct points and 25 mistakes. Nothing could separate them in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, and Rafa created the crucial gap in the more challenging exchanges from five to eight strokes and those that reached the ninth shot.

The Spaniard made a strong start, dropping one point in four service games of the opener and securing two breaks in games three and five for 6-2. Tsitsipas suffered another break in the second set's first game, leaving Nadal serving for the title at 5-4.

After taking only three return points since the start of the duel, Stefanos showed his skills in that tenth game to earn a break at 30, prolong the action and gather a boost. The youngster had a set point at 6-5 that Nadal denied after a lucky net cord.

The more experienced player took the tie break 7-4 following a forehand winner to start a massive celebration. "I lost to Rafael Nadal in Barcelona. It is not easy to come back and play another final against him. I was a bit nervous, overthinking, something I wasn't doing in the previous matches," Stefanos Tsitsipas said.