Tsitsipas hands Nadal third loss on clay this year in Madrid semifinal

Tsitsipas hands Nadal third loss on clay this year in Madrid semifinal

The 20-year-old Greek, who won in three sets, will face Novak Djokovic for the title on Sunday.

In the past 10 months, Stefanos Tsitsipas has beaten Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal,  each victory coming at either a Masters or Grand Slam tournament.

For some players, this remarkable run would represent their peak. But there's an inescapable feeling that the 20-year-old Greek has so much more to offer, with these jaw-dropping performances just a taste of what's to come.

Tsitsipas' lastest win over the Big 3 might be his most impressive of all. He hadn't taken so much as a set from Nadal in their three previous meetings; the last they played was 6-0, at the Australian Open. His only clay-court meeting against Nadal ended 6-2, 6-1. And wasn't Nadal due to reach a final at a clay-court tournament, considering his semifinal losses in Monte Carlo and Barcelona?

It turns out that we were due for another uber-impressive win from Tsitsipas against a player he watched growing up as a child. Boy has become man—quickly—and it Tsitsipas will get another chance to impress the sporting world tomorrow, with Djokovic waiting in the Madrid final.

"He has so much courage for age," said Mark Knowles after Tsitsipas' 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 win over Nadal. "I'm out of words to describe Stefanos Tsitsipas."

One way to describe Tsitsipas is fearless. From the onset, he looked to be the aggressor, using his forehand kill shot whenever possible and coming forward to disrupt Nadal's tried-and-true tactics along the baseline. His assertiveness would only amplify as the match went along, as did its effectiveness.

"Tsitsipas had a game plan early; he dictated with the forehand, and he wasn't afraid to come forward," said Knowles. "His game plan was perfect."

"I think all the doubles he's playing is helpful," added Tracy Austin, speaking to Tsitsipas' comfort in coming forward.

At no time was Tsitsipas' comfort more evident than when he was facing two break points while leading 3-2 in the third set. He got to deuce from 15-40 with a searing forehand winner, then rushed to net to win the pivotal point. On the ad point, Tsitsipas took a massive forehand cut down the line—a risky play, but perhaps the only play if the goal against Nadal on clay is to win, rather than to simply come away looking respectable.

Nadal, for his part, didn't play a poor match. There were more errors than you'd normally expect from the 11-time French Open champion on his native surface, but it was Tsitsipas' boldness that defined this contest, rather than Nadal's ineffectiveness. When Tsitsipas went up a double break in the decider, 5-2, Nadal didn't go away—he immediately broke serve, validating his opponent's insurance policy.

But Tsitsipas didn't go away, either. Returning serve at 5-3, he played it was one of the match's opening games: confident, self-assured, and with tennis at its highest level. He needed four match points and the insurance break to get it done—not to mention a cover-your-eyes Nadal volley error at net—but style points aren't important when the outcome is a win over Nadal on clay.

For Nadal, he enters his final French Open tune-up tournament, in Rome, without a European clay-court title this season. It's the first time since 2015 we can say that:

For Tsitsipas, he enters the final of Madrid looking to win his second consecutive clay-court title, having prevailed last week in Estoril. Clearly, last week was the start of something bigger for Stefanos, and this week may be the start of something even bigger in the months and years to come.