MADRID - For the third straight time this season, Rafael Nadal won’t be fighting for a title on his favourite surface. Nadal’s slump on clay continued on Saturday at the Madrid Open with a third consecutive semifinal elimination, adding to his worst start to the clay-court swing since 2015. He lost to ninth-ranked Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will try to win his third title of the year in a final against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who defeated Dominic Thiem 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) and will have a chance to tie Nadal for the most titles in Master 1000 tournaments with 33.

“It wasn’t my best night,” Nadal said. “I knew what I had to do, it was clear to me, but I just wasn’t capable of doing it. I didn’t have a good feeling to do the things I wanted to do and that’s it. We don’t have to dwell too much on it.”

The second-ranked Spaniard, still seeking his first title of the season, had also failed to make it to the final in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, tournaments he had won the last three consecutive seasons. He lost to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo and to Thiem in Barcelona. This is the first time since 2004 that Nadal had arrived in Madrid without a title.

“I’ve won a lot over the years on this surface,” he said.” But this year it hasn’t been the case. I’ve been really close, but I haven’t been able to win.” Nadal, who was yet to lose a set in Madrid this year, had beaten Tsitsipas all three previous times they played, without losing a set, including in the semifinals of the Australian Open.

The 20-year-old Tsitsipas converted on his fourth match point to close out the victory on the Magic Box center court. “I’m really happy that I managed to keep my nerves down and fight back. Probably one of the toughest victories I’ve had in my life,” Tsitsipas said. “Adding variety and being unpredictable was the key today.”

The young Greek played aggressively from the start, breaking Nadal’s serve six times. He saved 11 of the 16 break opportunities he conceded. “I really liked my fighting spirit,” he said. “I went on the court and I was mentally prepared for a fight.”