Rafael Nadal: ‘You go on court knowing that it’s not gonna be…’

World no. 3 Rafael Nadal reaches his twelfth final at the Rome Open and seeks the tenth title in one of his favorite events. Facing server behemoth Reilly Opelka in the semi-finals, Rafa scored a 6-4, 6-4 win in one hour and 32 minutes, beating the Masters 1000 semi-finalist for the first time in their first meeting to remain on the title course. Nadal endured challenging play and delivered a break in each set to emerge on top, beating the American in the longest exchanges to navigate to the title clash. Serving 78% in the first set, Nadal survived four break opportunities in the fourth game and took a break in the next that sent him forward and into the set after three consecutive grabs in love. Dominating with his right hand, Reilly took two easy grabs and created those 2-1 chances that could have sent him forward. Facing that final challenge, Rafa saved four break points with winners to level the score at 2-2 and avoid an early setback. Gathering momentum, Nadal secured a break in the fifth game when Opelka sprayed a forehand error, moving to the front and holding on with a game six-winning forehand for a 4-2 lead. The American had to dig deep in the seventh game, struggling to earn easy points and facing three breakthrough opportunities. Rafa failed to convert any, and Reilly held to a deficit break. The Spaniard stayed in love in game eight with a winning serve and closed the opener with another perfect hold at 5-4 after 50 minutes. Opelka stayed at 15 in the opening game of the second set with a winning serve before Nadal did the same in game two to 1-1. The American sent a long backhand in game three to propel the Spaniard to the front, with Rafa holding on to love to open a 3-1 gap. Nadal took the sixth game in love 4-2, and Opelka repeated that in the next game to stay a break behind. Approaching the finish line, Rafa fired a service winner in game eight to secure a 5-3 lead, serving for the victory in game ten. From 30 to 15 down, Rafa claimed three points in a row to go over the top and advance to his twelfth Rome Open final since 2005.

Rafael Nadal improved to a 12-0 record in semifinal matches in Rome

Rafael Nadal also admitted that he knew his early exchanges with Opelka would be tricky, and insisted that it was tough to make inroads against the big-serving American as he was in his element. “Well,┬áit’s always a big challenge playing against these kind of players. Similar, [I’ve] played against Isner, Karlovic, probably a little bit different ’cause Reilly is able to play very well from the baseline too, no?” Rafael Nadal said. “At the beginning of the match, he was hitting fantastic shots from the baseline. He put me in a very tough position at the beginning of the match, but you go on court knowing that it’s not gonna be a beautiful match, no?”

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