ROME — After losing in the semifinals of three consecutive clay-court tournaments, Rafael Nadal looked more like his old, dominant self when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-3, 6-4, to reach the Italian Open final on Saturday.
It was a measure of revenge for Nadal after losing to Tsitsipas in three sets at this stage in Madrid last week. This victory should also restore Nadal’s confidence as he seeks a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.
“The main thing is I am playing better,” Nadal said. “If I play better, I know I’m going to have chances to be in finals and to win semifinal matches.”
Aiming for a ninth trophy in Rome, Nadal’s opponent in Sunday’s final will be Novak Djokovic or Diego Schwartzman, who were set to play later Saturday.
Nadal is in the middle of his longest title drought to begin a season since he came onto the scene in 2004. His last trophy came in August in Toronto.
The crowd attempted to encourage Tsitsipas, a 20-year-old Greek player, with chants of “Tsi-Tsi-Tsi, Pas-Pas-Pas,” but he could not keep up with Nadal on the long rallies — even though he did not play on Friday because Roger Federer withdrew from their quarterfinal match with an injury.
Conditions were much slower than on the high-altitude court in Madrid, which favored Nadal and made it tougher for Tsitsipas to execute his attacking game. Tsitsipas felt court speed was the difference.
“The shots that I played today, I played similar shots last week,” Tsitsipas said. “Today those shots felt really slow, and he had plenty of time to pass me when I was approaching to the net.”
Midway through the first set, Nadal produced a blistering forehand winner up the line on the run, drawing a loud roar from the packed Campo Centrale crowd.
Nadal broke Tsitsipas’s serve early in both sets.
Konta and Pliskova in Women’s Final
In the women’s event, Johanna Konta of Britain rallied past sixth-seeded Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, in nearly three hours to reach the biggest clay-court final of her career. Konta’s only previous final on clay came recently in Rabat, Morocco, where she lost to Maria Sakkari.
The fourth-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova, a former world No. 1, beat Sakkari, 6-4, 6-4, in the other semifinal.
“I’ve never really doubted my ability on the surface,” Konta said. “I won a lot of my first junior titles, first professional titles, on clay. I’ve always felt that I have a game that has the ability to do well on this surface.”
Midway through the first set, Konta surprised Bertens with a drop-shot winner during a baseline rally, causing Bertens to fall on her stomach to the clay as she rapidly changed directions. Then, in the next game, Konta ran down a drop shot and produced an angled winner.
Bertens was coming off the Madrid Open title.
“She played really smart with the drop shots,” Bertens said. “I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But it was not there.”