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Nadal Holds Off Bautista Agut For Final Spot

Madrid, Spain

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal is closing on his fourth Madrid title.

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal is one win away from capturing his 27th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown after winning an all-Spanish semi-final contest with Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday at the Mutua Madrid Open.

Nadal is chasing his fourth title at the Caja Magica, having previously lifted the trophy in 2005, 2010 and last year, with victory over Stanislas Wawrinka. In Sunday’s final, Nadal will face tenth seed Kei Nishikori. It will be the 27-year-old Nadal’s 90th tour-level final. He is chasing his third trophy of the season, following victories in Doha (d. Monfils) and Rio de Janeiro (d. Dolgopolov).

The week in Madrid has marked a stark turnaround in fortunes for Nadal, who admitted he was suffering from doubts leading into the fourth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament of the season after enduring quarter-final exits in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona. He had not lost so early at either clay-court tournament in more than 10 years.

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"It was an important victory for me," said Nadal. "After a great match yesterday [against Berdych], I have the confirmation today that the improvement is real. It's very good news for me. I think for moments I played great tennis against an opponent that is playing really well and improving a lot. 

"He's a really dangerous opponent today. He's had great victories this year. So it is an important win for me. To be in a final here in a difficult tournament at home after losing in the quarter-finals for two weeks in a row means a lot to me. So I'm very happy."

The Mallorcan is yet to drop a set in Madrid, including a 6-4, 6-2 dismissal of sixth seed Tomas Berdych in Friday’s quarter-finals. In his first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting with Bautista Agut, Nadal did not have it all his own way against the gutsy Spaniard, but raised his level when he needed to, claiming victory in one hour and 43 minutes.

Bautista Agut fought back from an early break down in the match to level at 3-3, but Nadal immediately regained the upperhand with a break in the seventh game to clinch the opener. The top seed looked set to earn a bagel second set when he led 4-0 and 15/40 on Bautista Agut’s serve in the second set. 

Contesting his first Masters 1000 semi-final, though, Bautista Agut stood his ground and staged an impressive fightback to win three games in a row, cutting Nadal’s lead. However, Nadal gave Bautista Agut no opportunity for the second break back and won the final two games.

"Psychologically, in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, whenever I had difficult moments, I was not ready and I was a little bit down," said Nadal. "Here, I managed to be ready straightaway. For example, in the second set I had a ball to go up 5-0 and he played well and then I committed an error at deuce when it was 4-1. At 4-3, I responded again. I managed to serve well and play a good passing shot and to break again. 

"All of those symptoms are symptoms that I am mentally more stable and more confident that things are going to go well. This is great news in order to go out and play tomorrow's match, but also for what may come in the future."

Bautista Agut is set to break into the Top 30 of the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time at around World No. 27 on Monday. The 26 year old was also a semi-finalist in Auckland at the start of the season (l. to Isner) and stunned Juan Martin del Potro en route to the fourth round at the Australian Open. He recorded a second Top 10 win of the season when he upset Berdych in the Indian Wells second round.

"It's been a beautiful week for me," said Bautista Agut. "Perhaps I have the feeling that I could have played today's match a little bit better. I think that if right now I had the chance to play the match again, I would face it in a different way. Perhaps I had some up and downs. I had good moments and not that good moments.

"I'm happy with what I've been doing recently, so I hope that the rest [of the season] will keep on going in the same vein."

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