A loaded Wednesday schedule at the French Open got underway with two high-profile match-ups that had to be postponed the day before. Rafael Nadal barely broke a sweat as his countryman Pablo Carreño retired when the nine-time champion was leading 6-2 2-0. His semi-final rival will be Dominic Thiem, who ousted defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6 (5) 6-3 6-0 in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Overall, if there is one thing that stood out, is the fact no player was capable of imposing his serve as a major weapon. Or at least while the matches were competitive.
Carreño’s abdominal injury undermines Spanish battle
The King of Clay advanced to his first penultimate round in Paris since 2014 in less than an hour. The rising younger Spaniard forfeited when he was down a set and a break, unable to apply power to his serve during his final game.
According to 1998 Roland Garros finalist and current Eurosport Spain pundit Alex Corretja, the 25-year-old felt discomfort in his abdominal area at 2-5 in the first set. He rushed to request a medical timeout, but the treatment could hardly suppress the pain.
If the odds of beating Nadal were already slim under regular circumstances, Carreño opted to call it a day to prevent further physical damage.
Despite the lopsided score, the 14-time Grand Slam champion was not his usual self. Especially on serve, he was far from sharp. Here is a stat that perfectly illustrates how erratic he was: in the first set, Nadal only won 9 of 20 points when he put the ball in play. He was broken twice from the same side of the court, compiling error after error.
The 31-year-old has lost only 22 games en route to the semi-finals and I’m here highlighting his service woes. You can blame me for nit-picking, but Nadal will need to step up his game if he wants to beat his next opponent.
Thiem notches maiden win versus Djokovic
At least for the next two days, the hard-hitting Austrian can brag about having won his latest encounters on clay against both Nadal and Djokovic. The Serbian had recently thrashed Thiem 6-1 6-0 in Rome. Exactly a year ago, Thiem’s stellar French Open run came to a halt when Djokovic issued him a 6-2 6-1 6-4 demolition.
On Wednesday, however, the 23-year-old figured the defending champion out. This match was similar to when Djokovic finally dethroned Nadal via a 7-5 6-3 6-1 score back in 2015.
The first set featured a lot of twists and turns, as Djokovic and Thiem exchanged two breaks each. Günter Bresnik’s pupil kept changing direction, pace, and height but the Serbian was too resilient. Although it seemed the Wiener Neustadt native had the match in his racket, it was Djokovic who had two set points in the tenth game. Unlike in previous years, he squandered his opportunities.
The two gladiators reached the tiebreak, where they peaked at wasting service turns. In fact, the returner won the first six points of the breaker, an unfathomable stat in modern men’s tennis. In the first set overall, both players won 48 per cent of their receiving points.
After conceding the opening act, Djokovic’s once Spartan fighting spirit plummeted, to the point he pretty much mailed it in at the end.
Probably the two best clay courters of the season will square off on Friday. Nadal versus Thiem. Thiem against Nadal. The Austrian will try to improve on his 2016 result, but the Spaniard has never lost in the semi-final or final at the French Open. He’s an absurd 18-0 on the second weekend throughout his legendary career in Paris. Today’s matches made it clear, though, that both players will have to protect their serve better or it could be a rough match.
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