Stefanos Tsitsipas has played difficult matches against Rafael Nadal before. But their Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell final was another example of why it is so difficult to put the Spaniard away.
Tsitsipas earned a championship point at 5-4 in the deciding set, but by the slimmest of margins Nadal staved off defeat and eventually triumphed 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-5 for his 12th Barcelona title.
“He’s a real competitor on the court. He hates to lose,” Tsitsipas said. “He hates to lose more than anyone else.”
It wasn’t necessarily the Spaniard’s shots that impressed the World No. 5 the most. It was Nadal’s resolve under the greatest of pressure. For three hours and 38 minutes — marking the longest ATP Tour match this season — Tsitsipas went after the top seed and tried to take it to him, but Nadal never cracked mentally.
“I haven’t seen anyone fight like this. He makes my life really difficult on court,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m there to accept those terms and play based on his desire to fight. It also makes me a better player and I can see myself reaching my limits. It’s definitely something good to have for my personal development and growth.”
Although at times Nadal was not at his flying best, when it mattered most, he refused to give anything away. Tsitsipas said: “He always gets an extra ball back. You never know for certain that the rally will be over. There is always one more ball coming back and there were a few [key] shots that I missed.”
Despite that, Tsitsipas was on the doorstep of glory. Nadal was well behind the baseline on defence on the Greek’s championship point. The legendary lefty struck a backhand that barely squeaked over the net, but found a way to turn around the point and, eventually, the match. Tsitsipas felt he was in control.
“I was able to stay patient and wait for my turn. That [5-4] game [when] I had the match point, I felt like I had it for some reason. It was the sensation that I could get that one,” Tsitsipas said. “I think I made the right choice [and] I went to the right place… it was the right decision and [I] just got a bit unlucky.”
The positive for Tsitsipas is that following his impressive run to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters title last week, he maintained his level and reached the final of this ATP 500 without dropping a set.
“That’s great news, it’s great stuff. I was looking for a win today. I felt like I was close and I felt like there were opportunities that I had and for some reason I didn’t take [them],” Tsitsipas admitted. “I felt I could have pulled off better tennis today, but I’m happy that I brought him so close. I was a match point up… that ball on the match point, I was literally two centimetres from winning that match.”
Although the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals champion would have preferred to depart Barcelona with the champion’s trophy, he will leave with an important lesson.
“That the match is never over. It’s never over until the very last point. That’s what I learned today,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s very close, but you have to sometimes maybe do something extra.”