As it stands, just one man in the past two clay-court seasons can successfully claim Rafael Nadal is beatable on clay. And on Friday, that man – Austrian fifth seed Dominic Thiem – will earn another shot at a repeat when he meets the World No. 1 in the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open.
Nadal has not conceded a set on clay since falling to Thiem in the Rome quarter-finals in 2017 and on Thursday, broke John McEnroe’s 34-year record for most consecutive sets won on any one surface with his straight-sets dismissal of Diego Schwartzman taking his tally to 50, and counting.
It marked the Spaniard’s 21st straight clay-court win. Thiem, a runner-up to Nadal in the 2017 Madrid final, was under no illusions as to the difficulty ahead.
50 And Counting…
“It’s the biggest challenge in tennis right now. It’s really, really tough,” Thiem said of facing Nadal on clay. “I’m going into the match to win, even though it’s not very realistic, the way he plays now, the way I play now.
“Last year was little bit different. I lost to him easily in Barcelona. Then here I was closer to him. It was a really good match here, last year’s final. Then in Rome I was able to play 100 per cent the way it takes to beat him.
“It was one of the best matches of my life. If I want to repeat… it takes the same. I have to play very aggressive with not many mistakes.”
Since returning from a foot fracture suffered in March, Thiem has struggled to rediscover his form and confidence on his favoured clay as he did last season. He managed to take just two games when he ran into Nadal in his first tournament back in the quarter-finals of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, before bowing out to #NextGenATP Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Barcelona quarter-finals. This week, he has fought back from a set down both times to narrowly edge his way past Federico Delbonis and Borna Coric.
Nadal, by contrast, is positively cruising on home soil. After scooping 11th titles in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, the Spaniard has dropped just 11 games total against former World No. 6 Gael Monfils and Schwartzman. All of Nadal’s and Thiem’s meetings have come on clay with the Spaniard holding a 6-2 FedEx ATP Head2Head record.
“Of course, he is one of the best players in the world because the ranking speaks for itself,” Nadal said. “But on this surface, he’s one of the most dangerous players you can face, one of the ones that have a lot of possibilities to succeed. Tomorrow is a key match in the tournament. It’s one of the matches where I have to be a step ahead. I think I’m prepared for that step.”
Nadal Vs. Right-Handed, One-Handed Backhands (min. 8 matches)
Second seed Alexander Zverev will be out to avenge defeat from the Miami final when he meets No. 9 seed John Isner for a place in the semi-finals on Friday. Neither player has dropped serve this week, but the 21-year-old German’s two straight-sets victories are in stark contrast to the five tie-breaks Isner has needed to get there. Zverev holds a 3-1 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against the American.
Backing up his win over former World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Kyle Edmund reached his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-final with a straight-sets victory over Belgian No. 8 seed David Goffin on Thursday. The 23-year-old Brit next meets #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov who claimed bragging rights in the all-Canadian clash with Milos Raonic. Shapovalov’s win made him the youngest quarter-finalist in the Mutua Madrid Open’s history.
A day after his upset of No. 4 seed Juan Martin del Potro, Serbian Dusan Lajovic enters his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-final against No. 8 seed Kevin Anderson. The World No. 95 is the first qualifier to make the quarter-finals in Madrid since Santiago Giraldo in 2014 and fell to Anderson in the pair’s only prior meeting in Miami this season. Anderson, appearing in his 11th Masters 1000 quarter-final, will attempt to breakthrough to reach his first semi-final at this level.
Did You Know?
The last player to beat Nadal on clay prior to Thiem in last year’s Rome quarter-finals was Djokovic in the 2016 Rome quarter-finals.