© Mutua Madrid Open

Dominic Thiem seeks his first clay-court ATP Masters 1000 title in Madrid.

Thiem: 'Rafa Will Always Be The Favourite On Clay'

Austrian seeded fifth in Madrid

Dominic Thiem has split his past six FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings on clay with Rafael Nadal, but the Austrian still sees himself as the underdog when they play.

Having won the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell last month, Thiem looks to continue his brilliant form in Spain at the Mutua Madrid Open. The World No. 5 in the ATP Rankings stunned Nadal en route to prevailing in Barcelona and also defeated him in last year’s Madrid quarter-finals, but said the Spaniard’s dominance on clay for nearly 15 years makes him the main contender to win at any clay-court tournament.

“As long as Rafa is playing, he will always be the No. 1 favourite on clay. He's by far the best player ever on this surface. One win more or less is not going to change this fact,” said Thiem. “But I think after him, there is a small group of players which can go very far at each clay-court tournament and I think I'm in this group as well.

“When I beat him first in Buenos Aires three years ago, he was not playing really well. I played him in 2017 and 2018, when it was very cruel to play him on clay. I think he hadn't reached that level yet in Barcelona. But it was still a very good match and I think that he's on the way back to the amazing level he had 2017 and 2018.”

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Thiem has reached the Madrid final for the past two years, but his challenging draw for a potential three-peat includes a possible quarter-final against Roger Federer. Although the Swiss star hasn’t competed on clay in three years, he’s won this event three times and Thiem believes his clay-court credentials speak for themselves.

“Roger is also one of the best players on this surface of all time. The only thing that stopped him so many times is Rafa. Probably if Rafa wouldn't be there, he would win five or six Roland Garros titles,” said Thiem. “I think he also feels comfortable on the surface. He grew up on it in Switzerland, he knows how to move on it. It doesn't matter where or which tournaments he plays. He will always be one of the favorites.”

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But in typical Thiem fashion, he isn’t looking past his first match against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta or a qualifier. Although the Austrian didn’t put a foot wrong in winning Barcelona without dropping a set, he believes there are no guarantees when he takes the court in Madrid.

“I just won my biggest title on clay, which was an amazing week. But I think it doesn't matter for this tournament because all the best players in the world are here,” said Thiem. “But I'm always very happy to come back here. I feel very good here with the altitude and the little bit of special conditions. I hope that I can keep my good form.”

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