Dominic Thiem saved three break points in the final game to deliver a 6-4, 6-4 upset of 11-time champion Rafael Nadal and reach the final of the Barcelona Open on Saturday.
The Austrian, who lost the Roland Garros final to the Spanish great last year, denied Nadal the opportunity to become the first man to capture the same ATP title 12 times.
“I’m happy with how I played, I was competitive for the first time (in a few matches),” Nadal insisted.
Thiem will on Sunday face Daniil Medvedev, a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 winner over two-time tournament winner Kei Nishikori.
“Things were positive even if I lost. Congrats to him, he’s a great guy and a great player,” added top seed Nadal who was a semifinal loser last week to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo where he was also an 11-time champion.
“Today I played at a good level, it was a great improvement on last week, when I was not competitive at all.
“I enjoyed the match, I’m feeling the way I want to feel about my game. I’m happy and I’m confident.”
Third-seeded Thiem took revenge for not only his 2018 French Open final loss to Nadal but also avenged losing the 2017 Barcelona title match to the 32-year-old Spaniard.
Nadal had never before lost a Barcelona semi-final.
Thiem joins Novak Djokovic as the only player to have defeated Nadal four times on clay after Buenos Aires in 2016, Rome in 2017 and last year in the Madrid quarterfinals.
Fourth seed Nishikori had reached the final of the Catalan clay-court event three times, winning in 2014 and 2015 but losing the 2016 final to Nadal.
“He played very aggressive and was better today on the clay,” Nishikori said after his loss to Medvedev. “It was a close match, he played well at the right moments.”