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Quest for 10: Nadal stops Opelka to reach record 12th Rome final

Rafael Nadal took down hard-serving American Reilly Opelka to reach his record 12th final at Rome.

Rafael Nadal, Madrid, 2021 Rafael Nadal of Spain in action during his practice session for the ATP Masters 1000 – Mutua Madrid Open 2021 at La Caja Magica on May 3, 2021 in Madrid, Spain.
  • What happened? Rafael Nadal eased past bomb-serving Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4 to reach the final in Rome.
  • Why it matters: The Spaniard will bid for his tenth career title at the Foro Italico, against either Novak Djokovic or Lorenzo Sonego.
  • You might also learn: How many other tournaments Nadal has achieved double digit titles at.

Reilly Opelka entered Saturday’s semi-final at the Foro Italico in sizzling form, but the 23-year-old fizzled in his first career meeting against Nadal. World No 47-ranked Opelka had early chances against the Spaniard but could not convert and ended up trailing for most of the match.

An early opportunity for Opelka

The American had four break point chances with Nadal serving at 1-2 in the opening set, but all four chances went begging and Nadal quickly seized on the momentum to break for 3-2. Nadal, who improves to a mind-blowing 67-7 at Rome with his victory, was a menace to Opelka throughout the contest, and he helped himself from the service stripe by making 78 percent of his first serves in the opening set (75 percent for the match).

“I think I did the things that I had to do today,” said Nadal. “Of course it’s not easy and it’s not a beautiful match to play against a player like Reilly. You don’t have rhythm and you know you are only going to have a few options on your return.”

The Spaniard finished with 13 winners against just 10 unforced errors, while Opelka hit 27 winners (11 service) and made 24 unforced errors.

Nadal’s 500th match on clay 

The King of Clay ticked off a clay milestone by playing in his 500th match on the surface on Saturday. Nadal has won 458 of those matches, which is by far the highest winning percentage among the other players to have logged 500 or more matches on clay. In fact, none of the six other players that contested 500 clay-court matches even managed a winning percentage of .800.

500 + Matches on Clay 

  • Guillermo Vilas | 854 | 681-173 (.797)
  • Manuel Orantes | 739 | 569-170 (.770)
  • Jose Higueras | 576 | 394-182 (.684)
  • Thomas Muster | 553 | 426-127 (.770)
  • Ilie Nastase | 539 | 426-113 (.790)
  • Eddie Dibbs | 520 | 382-138 (.735)
  • Rafael Nadal | 500 | 458-42 (.916)

A Serving Clinic 

Remarkably, only one first-serve point was lost in the second set. Opelka won all 15 of his first-serve points, but only managed 5 of 12 second-serve points won. The American was broken for 2-1 by Nadal and never saw a break point in the second set. Nadal won 17 of his 18 first-serve points.

In total, Nadal only needed to hit 14 second-serves in the entire match. Opelka will regret the fact that his first-serve percentage was far lower. The American only made 52 percent of his first serves. He won 15 of his 29 second serve points and saved five of seven break points.

Nadal and Masters 1000

The Spaniard is into his 52nd career Masters 1000 final and he will bid to tie Novak Djokovic on the all-time Masters 1000 title list on Sunday, with 36. If Novak Djokovic can get past Lorenzo Sonego in Saturday’s second semi-final, the Rome final will see Nadal and Djokovic go head to head for the 57th time, and the first time since Nadal took out Djokovic in straight sets in the Roland-Garros final last year.

“I did a lot of things well,” said Nadal. “Good spirits during the whole week, a lot of positive things I did on court this week and it’s important for my confidence to be back in such an important final like this one.”

Nadal will bid to become the only player to have won double digit titles at four different tournaments tomorrow in Rome. He has already won 13 at Roland-Garros, 12 at Barcelona and 11 at Monte-Carlo.

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