Cuevas Clips Nadal, Pella Powers Into First Final In Rio
For the first time in the three-year history of the Rio Open presented by Claro, Spain will not be represented in the singles final. Top seed and 2014 champion Rafael Nadal was upset by Pablo Cuevas in a late-night semi-final clash in Rio de Janeiro, falling 6-7(6), 7-6(3), 6-4. It was just Nadal's second defeat on clay to a player ranked outside the Top 30 of the Emirates ATP Rankings since 2005.
In a rematch of their quarter-final meeting on the same court last year, which was won by Nadal in a thriller that concluded at 3:19am - the second-latest finish in ATP World Tour history - Cuevas would get his revenge. The Uruguayan fired 48 winners, including 10 aces, and saved 11 of 13 break points for the win after three hours and 28 minutes.
Despite edging Cuevas in a first set tie-break and denying a pair of set points deep in the second, Nadal lost steam as the match wore on. The World No. 45 would not look back after grabbing an early mini-break in the second set tie-break, eventually forcing a decider. He would save two break points in the sixth game of the third set and immediately secured the decisive break one game later. Cuevas fell to his knees in triumph with the clock pushing 1:00am, capturing his third match point.
It was Cuevas' first victory over Nadal in three FedEx ATP Head2Head clashes, denying the Spaniard his 100th tour-level final. He advances to his fifth ATP World Tour title match and will look to build on a 3-1 record in finals when he takes on Guido Pella.
"I lost an opportunity, that's it," said Nadal. "I fought until the end. I have to accept it and keep working to try to change the dynamic. That's what's happening today and I have to work hard to change it.
"I didn't win a title, so it wasn't a positive two tournaments. I had my chances in both. I lost in the semi-finals of both tournaments and just have to look forward to Indian Wells."
On Friday, Pella reached his first ATP World Tour semi-final in Rio de Janeiro. The Argentine is not stopping there, surging into his first final with a dominant 6-1, 6-4 victory over Dominic Thiem.
For Pella, the 25-year-old's improbable run to a first tour-level final has come less than three months after suffering a partially torn right adductor muscle at the ATP Challenger Tour Finals. On Monday, he saved three match points in upending John Isner in a third-set tie-break and added another Top 20 win in less than one week over Thiem.
The 19th-ranked Austrian, who was riding an eight-match win streak following a title run in Buenos Aires, contested a sixth consecutive clay-court semi-final in ATP World Tour events. He was coming off a third victory over a Top 10 opponent after toppling second seed David Ferrer on Friday.
"Today, he was just the better player on the court," said Thiem. "He had the same conditions, but he just handled them better than me. Everything was at a couple per cent less than the last matches.
"I played a great tournament and I would love to come back next year."
Pella rose to the occasion from the onset on Saturday, pummeling short balls off Thiem's racquet and taking advantage of early windy conditions. A one-hour rain delay stopped the action after the Argentine streaked to a 6-1, 1-1 lead and he would not stumble when play resumed. With Thiem serving down 5-4 in the second set, a backhand wide gave Pella a pair of match points and a double fault would seal the victory after 73 minutes. Pella fired 14 winners and capitalised on 21 Thiem unforced errors to capture their first FedEx ATP Head2Head encounter.