Fans were treated to an early final in the Mutua Madrid Open. In a rematch of the 2017 decider, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem showed the Manolo Santana Stadium why they are the kings of clay. Their strength on the slowest surface was on display in a formidable encounter, an open battle between two of the favourites to win the trophy in the Spanish capital.
The Austrian unpicked Rafael Nadal’s game to win 7-5, 6-3 and progress to the semi-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open, having come through a match the Mallorcan called ‘key’ before he took to the court. Thiem now faces South African player Kevin Anderson in search of a place in Sunday’s final.
“He is the best player of all time on clay, so it’s a very special victory”, declared Thiem. “If I played average I would have lost, so I needed some special shots“, stated the Austrian having ended the match with 27 winners, a superb haul against Nadal on the slowest surface on tour. “I connected with a lot of forehands down the line because I needed to play a really aggressive match”.
Against one of his biggest rivals on clay, Nadal was bombarded with threats. The chance to challenge the defending champion was incentive enough for Thiem, who only needed one attempt at receiving to generate his first break points. His powerful play from the baseline asked plenty of questions of Nadal, whom he overpowered during certain stages of the tie.
“Two weeks ago, I only got two games from him in Monte Carlo. If you can beat him anywhere on clay it’s here and in Rome. I went out onto the court convinced that I could win”, recognised Thiem, who took his head to head with the Spaniard to 3-6.
The end of the first set provided a perfect example of the Austrian player’s confidence. Serving to take the set (5-4), Thiem was faced with Nadal’s famous determination and he proved more than up to the challenge. The first set point slipped by in the cruellest of fashions; a powerful forehand from Thiem was out by inches, and Rafa took his chance to level the set (5-5) and get back into the match, highlighting something we already knew; Nadal only needs a glimmer of hope to bounce back. However, a superbly confident Thiem took the last two games to tip the match in his favour.
The Austrian, the last player capable of taking a set from Nadal on clay (Rome 2017), did the impossible once more to leave the Spaniard’s record of consecutive sets at 50.
In the second set, pace was never an issue for Dominic, who was determined to take the shortest route to victory at his opponent’s home tournament. Thiem watched his advantage over Nadal disintegrate (from 1-3 to 3-3) and the Austrian managed to take back the control and seal the last three games of the match to claim victory.
The win will provide a boost to the Austrian’s state of mind as his quest for a first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown continues. Twelve months after his first final in the category at the Mutua Madrid Open, Thiem is dreaming once more in the Caja Mágica.