Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates at the end of his ATP 1000 Masters Men's Singles Semifinal match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia in Madrid, Spain, May 13, 2017.
Nadal overpowered Djokovic and converted on his third match point to earn his first victory against the second-ranked Serb since the 2014 French Open final.
An open era record 50th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic served to highlight the Serb's dramatic dip in form since they last met in Rome nearly exactly a year ago. "I haven't had that feeling in months, so it's great to feel that", said Djokovic.
"To beat an opponent such as Novak, it gives you a lot of confidence".
"It's true that some matches are more important than others". Djokovic created a break point as Nadal served for the match, but it was Nadal who calmed his nerves and closed out the victory. Djokovic led the head-to-head 26-23 and the Serb was on a seven-match winning streak, indeed an 11-12 run, against Nadal, and what's more, he had won their last three on clay.
Yet Nadal, coming back into form after two underwhelming years, was quick to play down suggestions he was already the favourite for the French Open and, by default, the Rome Masters - a tournament he is looking to win for the eighth time. Never had they taken so long for a rematch, but then it had been at Roland Garros a year ago that their paths took such contrasting directions.
"All in all, I did try my best". 'He deserved to win. His quality was very high. I take, as I say, more positives than negatives into the next week in Rome. "It shows you you're working in the right way", said Nadal, who has thrived after struggling with his game for two years.
Nadal has won three of his four meetings with Thiem, per the ATP World Tour website, but the Austrian can hold out hope for an upset, having beaten the Spanish powerhouse at the Argentina Open semis on clay past year.
Djokovic was playing his first tournament in Madrid since parting company with his long-term coach Marian Vajda.
Nadal maintained his momentum by winning the first two games of the second set, but Djokovic sprung into life and levelled at 2-2 when the Mallorca native netted a backhand after being given the runaround. "It means the world to me to make it to another final here in Madrid". He won his first career title in Marrakech, Morocco last month.
We saw a poor performance from Djokovic, and Nadal who is looking absolutely magnificent on clay this season, used this situation and immediately imposed his style of play. Now he's in the quarters playing very good tennis.
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