Madrid, May 12 (AFP) Novak Djokovic will play Stefanos Tsitsipas for the Madrid Open title after the 20-year-old Greek stunned Rafael Nadal to win a thrilling semi-final 6-4 2-6 6-3 on his fourth match point.
Nadal had been a clear favourite to face Djokovic in Sunday's showpiece at Caja Magica but the 17-time Grand Slam champion extended his stuttering build-up to the French Open with another surprise defeat.
Tsitsipas' stunning victory on Saturday means he reaches his fourth ATP final of the season while fully vindicating those that have him circled as a future star of the men's game.
"Emotionally it was very tough, it was one of my toughest wins," he said.
It might be too early to expect the world number nine to challenge at Roland Garros later this month but, with a fearless style and formidable forehand, Tsitsipas is developing a habit for delivering on the big stage.
In terms of career wins, this perhaps trails only his ousting of Roger Federer from the Australian Open in January, when he went on to reach the semi-finals for his best run yet at a Grand Slam.
But, as well as Federer and Nadal, Tsitsipas has now beaten Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, both twice, and Djokovic, whom he played on hard in Canada last year and prevailed in three sets.
He will draw confidence from that result ahead of Sunday's final but arguably even more so from overcoming Nadal, on clay, which Djokovic had earlier described as the "ultimate challenge" following his own 7-6 (7/2) 7-6 (7/4) victory over Dominic Thiem.
By his own high standards, Nadal's clay-court swing has been disappointing. He lost in the last four in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona, arriving in Madrid without winning either tournament for the first time since 2015.
"It's a lost chance," admitted five-time champion Nadal after his third straight semi-final defeat on clay.
- Djokovic enhances Paris credentials -
Few would bet against the Spaniard claiming a 12th success in Paris but the showings of Djokovic, and even Thiem, in this tournament suggests it is far from a foregone conclusion.
Djokovic enhanced his credentials as perhaps the greatest threat by edging past Thiem, who took down Nadal en route to clinching the trophy in Barcelona last month and had also knocked out Federer in the Madrid quarter-finals.
"I thought coming into the match, he was the favourite to win it," Djokovic said.
"So that's why it's a great win for me." Since taking a month off after winning the Australian Open, Djokovic had also stuttered, enduring early exits in Indian Wells, Miami and then Monte Carlo.
But Thiem found the 31-year-old close to his best, delivering a timely reminder of why he has won the last three Grand Slam titles and will hold all four concurrently by winning his 16th at the French Open.
"It was a very important win for me against one of the best players in the world," said Djokovic, a two-time champion in Madrid.
"He's getting back to his 100 percent again," Thiem said.
"The closer it comes to the Grand Slams, the better he'll play and we are pretty close to the French Open." AFP SSC
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