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, on Saturday to reach the Italian Open final.
It was a measure of revenge for Nadal after losing to Tsitsipas in three sets in a semifinal in Madrid a week earlier. 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.”
In Sunday’s final, Nadal will resume his rivalry with top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who faced an unusually high number of drop shots from Diego Schwartzman before winning, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-3.
Djokovic also required three sets to eliminate Juan Martín del Potro in the quarterfinals, meaning he has been on court for more than five and a half hours over the last two days.
It will be the 54th career meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, with Djokovic leading the series, 28-25. The pair have split the four Italian Open finals they have played. They last met in the Australian Open final, which was won by Djokovic in straight sets.
Nadal is aiming for a ninth trophy in Rome; Djokovic is seeking his fifth title at the Foro Italico.
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.”
Nadal broke Tsitsipas’s serve early in both sets.
Breakthrough for Konta
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. The fourth-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova, a former world No. 1, beat Maria Sakkari of Greece, 6-4, 6-4, in the other semifinal.
Pliskova did not immediately realize she won because she lost track of the score. “I thought it was 4-3,” she said. “I felt bad about it.”
Pliskova is having a solid year, having reached the Australian Open semifinals and the Miami Open final after opening the season with a title in Brisbane, Australia. She recently announced that she had promoted Conchita Martinez, a four-time Italian Open champion, as her head coach.
Konta’s only previous final on clay came recently in Rabat, Morocco, where she lost to Sakkari.
“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.”
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