The Spaniard advanced to the men’s singles final in Rome for the 12th time in his career.
Rafael Nadal met Reilly Opelka for the first time ever at the Foro Italico in Rome; the nine-time champion secured his spot into Sunday’s final by defeating the American player in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 after one hour and 32 minutes.
As a result, world No. 3 became the first finalist of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia; Nadal will face the winner of the match between world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego.
Nadal and Djokovic have reached the most ATP Masters 1000 semi-finals since the series started in 1990 - they also achieved the most Rome semi-finals in the Open Era (since 1968).
Playing his 500th career clay-court match, Nadal hit the Center Court to face ranked No. 47 Opelka, who reached his maiden ATP Masters 1000 semi-final by beating Argentinian player Federico Delbonis.
Throughout his tournament campaign in Rome, the 2020 Delray Open champion had not dropped a set in the four matches he contested.
In addition, he recorded 77 aces, 43 service games and saved all six break points he faced before Saturday’s clash with the Spaniard.
On the other side of the court, the 23-year-old found an inspired Nadal, who was coming from ending a run of three defeats to world No. 6 Alexander Zverev with a 6-3 6-4 victory on Friday.
On Thursday, the warrior - who also goes by the name of King of Clay - won an epic third-round clash over Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, saving two match points in three hours and a half hard-fought battle.
The Manacor native took the opener 6-4 over Opelka in 50 minutes, saving four break points, recording a break on his rival serve to take the lead at 3-2.
In the second set, the 34-year-old produced an early break at 2-1 which resulted in a decisive point in the game, powering into the championship final, sealing the set 6-4 while displaying high-quality tennis.
All in all, the 20-time Grand Slam champion won 63 points, 44 with his service; he also hit five aces to Opelka’s 11.
On a post-match interview, Nadal commented: “I did the thing that I had to do today. It is not an easy, beautiful match to play and, [against] a player like Reilly, [you are not going to] have rhythm.
“You know you are going to have just a few options on your return, and you know he can play very aggressive from the baseline. That is what happened at the beginning of the match. He had some options [for the] break, and it was super important for me to save those moments.”
He added:” I did a lot of things well [and played with a] good spirit during all the week. [There are] a lot of positive things I did on court this week, and it is important for my confidence to be back in such an important final like this one.”
At the time of writing, Djokovic had won the first set 6-3 over Sonego, but the Italian rallied to seal the second set in his favor 7-6 (5), forcing a decider.