Rafael Nadal is undefeated no longer on clay in 2017.
Nadal suffered his first clay-court loss of the year when he fell to a red-hot Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-3 in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarterfinals on Friday afternoon. Thiem broke serve four times in 10 return games to prevail after one hour and 51 minutes.
“I came in with a very aggressive game style, because I knew that if I wanted to have a chance, then I would have to do something different and be more aggressive,” the world No. 7 explained. “I knew that if it goes in, everything, maybe I have a chance. If not, maybe I also lose easy. But today was one of these days where I really felt the ball great on the racket, and a lot of risky shots went in.”
Thiem knew the required game-plan because he had already tried–and failed–to take down Nadal twice already this spring. They squared off for titles in both Barcelona and Madrid, with the 14-time Grand Slam champion getting the job done on both occasions. Thiem played one stellar set in Barcelona and two in Madrid, but it was not enough to damage his heavily favored opponent.
He had more than enough in Rome.
With one set in hand, Thiem only got better in the second. The Austrlian broke early, consolidated his advantage by saving three break points, and earned another scalp of the Nadal serve at 5-3 to clinch victory in style.
“It was a very, very good performance and I think probably one of my best matches,” Thiem assured. “It’s a great achievement for me. If you’re up a set and a break, you never feel safe because he just doesn’t give you one easy point. So you really have to finish the match off, and that’s what I did today with a little bit of trouble in my last service game.
“He’s this kind of player who never gives up; probably the best fighter in tennis. Especially on clay it’s one of the toughest things to beat him.”
Nobody else has beaten the Spaniard on the slow stuff in 2017. Nadal had been 17-0 on his favorite surface with titles in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid. He did not play poorly on Friday but was simply outclassed by the show produced by Thiem.
“What was wrong is that the other player played very well,” Nadal responded when asked what went wrong. “(I’m) very happy about the way that I played in the four weeks”