BARCELONA, SPAIN - Kei Nishikori failed in his bid to reach the Barcelona Open final for the first time in four years, falling a step short in a semifinal loss on Saturday.
A two-time champion and three-time finalist in Barcelona, world No. 7 Nishikori lost 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 to 14th-ranked Daniil Medvedev of Russia.
It was a tour-best 25th win of the year for Medvedev, who was coming off a semifinal appearance in Monte Carlo. It will be his first-ever final on clay.
“I’m really happy that I managed to hold my nerves, to try to come back, and I managed to come back,” Medvedev said. “I’m just happy to be in the final.”
Dominic Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in the other semifinal, becoming the first player other than Novak Djokovic to defeat the Spaniard on clay four times.
Medvedev, seeking an upset, won the first set’s only break point, when Nishikori hit a forehand out to take a 3-2 lead. The second set was dead even until Nishikori broke in the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead before winning his second set point on his serve to even things up.
In the third set, Nishikori looked like his old self, consistently hitting demanding shots that kept Medvedev on the run and hitting forced errors. The Russian dropped the first service game when his off-balance shot was wide and responded by slamming his racket to the court and breaking it.
Medvedev, however, broke to even it 2-2. Nishikori had to survive a double break point to hold his next service game and stay in the match. Nishikori had a chance to break and serve for the match, but netted a return on break point, allowing Medvedev to go up 5-4.
The Russian, however, broke Nishikori again in the 12th game to send his rival packing.
The two had previously in two finals on the ATP World Tour, with Medvedev winning to claim last year’s Japan Open, and Nishikori returning the favor this past January to win the Brisbane International.
Nadal’s loss came one week after he was beaten by Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo.
Nadal was seeking to add to his 11 titles at both events.
Now, the 17-time Grand Slam champion will be looking to recover his normally unstoppable form on clay before next month’s French Open, which he has also won 11 times.
While Nadal called his loss at Monte Carlo “one of his worst matches on clay,” he said Saturday’s loss to Thiem was one he could learn from.
“There are losses that help you, and this was one of them,” said Nadal, who had been aiming for a fourth consecutive title in Barcelona.
“Considering the way I played, it has been quite a while since I felt this good on clay,” he said. “Of my last eight matches this is the first one where I have left (thinking) that I am playing at the level I need to be at, to be able to play relaxed and with the necessary energy.
“Thiem played a great match and I was in it. I was competitive, and I think that from here on I will be even better.”
Thiem will try to win his second title of the year on Sunday in the final against Medvedev.
The fifth-ranked Thiem won his first title of the season by defeating Roger Federer in the Indian Wells final in March. This will be his first final on clay since last year’s French Open, where he lost to Nadal.
Thiem lost the Barcelona final to Nadal two years ago, but the Austrian has beaten Nadal on clay in each of the last three seasons.
Only two other players have beaten Nadal on clay three times — Fognini and Gaston Gaudio.
The second-ranked Nadal had never lost in the semifinals or finals in Barcelona. He had won 18 straight here going back to a third-round defeat against Fognini in 2015.
Thiem has yet to lose a set this week, and he was in control early on against Nadal, putting pressure on the Spaniard’s serve from the start. He broke Nadal in the fifth game of the first set and had four break opportunities immediately after that before Nadal recovered to hold.
The one break ended up being enough for Thiem in the first set, and he moved ahead of the Spaniard again at 2-2 in the second set. He was down 0-40 while serving for the match, but came back to close out the victory at the Rafa Nadal main court.
“I’m always super proud if I beat him because he’s the best player ever on this surface,” Thiem said. “We always had great matches in the past, and also today’s was very good. I was more lucky today.”