Austria’s Dominic Thiem produced a clay court masterclass to stun reigning Madrid Open Champion Rafael Nadal in sensational style, winning 7-5 6-3. The fans in the Caja Magica, as the centre of Mutua Madrid Open is commonly known, were treated to a magical performance from the dynamic young Austrian who finally ended Nadal’s record-setting run of winning 50 consecutive sets on a single surface. This is by no means the dethroning of the Spaniard as the King of Clay, but Thiem was certainly the most convincing insurrectionist.
Thiem, who incidentally was the last man to win set or beat Nadal on clay, which was precisely a year ago (quarterfinals in Rome in 2017), showed nerves of steel with a barrage of aggressive hitting from the baseline to overpower Nadal. By the time the Austrian conjured up match point, not the even the domineering Nadal could put together a feat of escapology.
Nadal, simply put, has been untouchable ever since his return to the clay courts. After title wins in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, he looked in fine spirits this week. It was barely a month ago when the World No.1 crushed the Austrian in Monte Carlo for the loss of two games. Yet, here, being cheered by a vociferous home crowd, Nadal was outlasted from the baseline.
Thiem hit 29 winners in total, which more than double to what Nadal posted during the entire match, and in spite of fluffing his chance of serving out the set at the first time of asking, Thiem broke Nadal straight away and made no mistakes when he sealed the first set with an ace and fist pump to his corner.
Nadal had broken John McEnroe’s 34-year-old record following his straight sets win over Argentine Diego Shwartzmann in the last round, but Thiem’s decision to take the ball early and with finesse was an extremely positive tactic which had the Spaniard sporting a worrying look. When the fifth seeded broke Nadal early in the second set, it seemed there was no way back for the World no. 1. But like all great champions, Nadal retrieved the break, but surprisingly he was not at the races. Thiem broke Nadal twice at the tail end of the second set to inflict Nadal’s first loss on the clay this season.
With the loss, Nadal will fall to No. 2 in the World when the rankings update on Monday, moving rival Roger Federer back to No. 1, at least for the time being. Nadal can reclaim the top ranking with a title in Rome next week.
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