Rafa Nadal suffered his first defeat on clay in a year when he went down to Austria’s Dominic Thiem in the Madrid Open quarterfinals. Thiem’s 7-5, 6-3 win ended Rafa’s streak of 50 consecutive sets unbeaten on the surface and also Nadal’s 21 match winning streak. Coincidentally, Nadal’s last defeat on the surface had come to Thiem when the Spaniard had lost at the Rome Open quarterfinals one year ago.
Since that defeat, Nadal won his tenth French Open title and then US Open on the hard-court to take his Grand Slam haul to 16. He came into the Madrid Open having won his 11th title at Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
But Thiem beat Nadal at his own game, finishing long rallies with winners and avoiding the costly hitting errors that sunk Nadal’s title defense.
The win also means Roger Federer will return to World No 1 when the ATP Rankings are released on Monday.
Thiem stuck to the baseline and took his groundstrokes early to unsettle Nadal, who was unusually below par in the opening set on his favourite surface, making several unforced errors.
Although the 24-year-old Austrian failed to convert a set point in the ninth game, he pounced at the second time of asking to seal the first set with an ace.
A couple of mistimed forehands from Nadal handed Thiem an early 3-1 advantage in the second set but the defending champion fought back to draw level after six games.
But Thiem was not to be denied and won 10 of the next 11 points to snuff out any chance of a Nadal comeback, sealing victory with a powerful cross-court winner in under two hours.
“I haven’t been good enough today,” Nadal told reporters. “He was better than me today. That’s the end of the story. Some days you don’t play as good as you would like to play. Also when that happens it’s because your opponent is doing really well.”
The result means that fifth-seed Thiem becomes only the third player – after Argentine Gaston Gaudio and Serb Novak Djokovic – to beat Nadal on clay on three occasions.
“I had to really increase my level compared to Monte Carlo to beat Rafa here,” Thiem said. “He won 21 matches on clay and 50 sets. So I had to play an extraordinary match, and that’s what I did. I think a very important thing also was today that I went in with the attitude that I can beat him.”
Kevin Anderson, Denis Shapovalov advance
World number eight Kevin Anderson battled into his first Masters semi-final after a win over Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-3. The 31-year South Africa shuttler, who was the runner-up of the US Open in 2017, struck 15 aces and 35 winners on course to his win. On the other end, the 19-year Deni Shapovalov continued his rise in tennis after he became the youngest player to reach the Madrid semi-finals by defeating Britain’s Kyle Edmund 7-5, 6-7 (6/8) 6-4.
The Canadian teen senation, who is currently ranked at 43 in the world, smashed 29 winners past Edmund, to script his victory. He will now face second-seeded Alexander Zverev in the Madrid Open semifinal, after the German defeated John Isner 6-4, 7-5 to gain revenge for his defeat to the American in the Miami Masters final in April. It is the fifth time that Zverev has now entered a Masters semi-finals since last year.
(With inputs from Agencies)