Ruthless Rafa Rushes Into Semi-finals
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal was rock solid on Friday when he broke apart the challenge of Dominic Thiem, one of the strongest performers on clay courts over the past two years, for a place in his 13th semi-final at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
Nadal won the first nine games of an eagerly anticipated encounter against Novak Djokovic’s conqueror, Thiem, in a 6-0, 6-2 victory over 68 minutes to remain on course to capture an 11th crown at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, where he has a 66-4 record.
“It has been a great result for me, but it isn’t a normal result,” said Nadal. “He's one of the best players of the world, especially on clay.
“Here, I think I played great. I played so well this afternoon, playing very aggressive in general terms, backhand, forehand, serve. I'm defending well, returning well. It has been a great day for me, and a very good result against a very difficult rival. I’m sorry for him, because he's a good friend. It was a tough score, of course. But I know he is going to be fighting for every title during the clay court season.”
Nadal, with a 394-35 mark (.918) in clay-court matches in his illustrious career according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone, will next look to beat Monte-Carlo resident and fourth-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov for the 12th time in their 13th meeting on Saturday. Nadal has won 30 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies.
Nadal’s consistency in groundstroke length that took time away from Thiem, his quick footwork in exploiting any short ball and the variety of pace ensured that the Spanish superstar capitalised on his Austrian opponent’s erratic patterns of play. It wasn’t until 52 minutes had passed that Thiem won his first game, a hold to Advantage for 3-1, which was cheered loudly by the capacity crowd on Court Rainier III, the main show court.
Last year, Nadal got the better of Thiem in three of their four red dirt meetings – finals at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell and the Mutua Madrid Open, in addition to the Roland Garros semi-finals. Thiem’s second win in seven previous meetings came in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-finals.
The 31-year-old Nadal must retain the Monte-Carlo title if he is to remain at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings for a 171st week, otherwise his Swiss rival, Roger Federer, will return to the top spot on 23 April. This week, he is competing at his first tournament since sustaining a hip injury in January during the Australian Open quarter-finals against Marin Cilic.
Thiem, who committed 25 unforced errors against Nadal, is now 10-2 on clay this year (19-5 overall), which includes his ninth ATP World Tour crown at the Argentina Open (d. Bedene) in February.
Did You Know?
This is the eighth time Nadal has lost two games or less at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, and the first time he has done so at the tournament against a Top 10 opponent.