Rafael Nadal didn't experience a magical moment or an epiphany, a moment of clarity in which he suddenly felt like his best tennis on clay was around the corner.
For the 32-year-old, his gradual improvement this clay-court season has been a daily process. He's gained more and more confidence with every shot and every win.
“Which match was the most important? Every practice and every match. [There's] not a match that is very important. It's about every day looking for the things that I need with hope and with passion and with the right attitude. That's daily work more than a match in particular,” Nadal said.
The Spaniard reached his first tour-level final since January on Saturday at the Internazional BNL d'Italia in Rome, avenging his Mutua Madrid Open semi-final loss and beating Greece's #NextGenATP star Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 to make his 11th Rome final.
Nadal, an eight-time champion in the Eternal City, will meet Novak Djokovic of Serbia or Argentine Diego Schwartzman for a chance at a record-setting 34th ATP Masters 1000 title.
“What helps is to win matches, of course. What also helps is having the feeling that you're playing better,” said Nadal, who improved to 4-1 against Tsitsipas.
“I said in Madrid I was playing better, then I played a bad match in the semi-finals, true... After my loss against [Dominic] Thiem in semi-finals of Barcelona, I think my personal feeling improved and my energy came back a little bit. After that I had the feeling that I was able to be back, to play at the level that I need to play.”
In March, the Spaniard made the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, the season's first Masters 1000 event. But Nadal had to withdraw from his anticipated semi-final against Roger Federer because of knee pain. The injury affected him physically and mentally for weeks.
“The energy I think was not that high in Monte-Carlo and in Barcelona before. I went through some tough moments after Indian Wells. Recovery of the knee again... It was not easy to come back and to prepare myself the right way. Mentally it was tough to accept, too, that you cannot practise the way you need to practice. That's part of the process,” Nadal said.
“Then I had the chance to practise better, to do better things. Then the energy and motivation and passion back. In consequence, the level, too."
He has come back from far worse in the past, and he's done so again here in Rome, making his 50th Masters 1000 final. More history awaits on Sunday.
“To be in the final is nothing unbelievably good. It's just a process that I have to go through,” Nadal said. “The main thing is recovering my level. More than be in the final for me, that's my feeling, the thing that I am happy with, that I am playing better.”