An effort that started in 2017 took two years to reach fruition as the NextGen players of ATP are finally displaying great will and determination to dominate the top three in men's tennis. 2019 has seen some promising youngsters defeating the likes of players like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as for the first time since 2016, there will be no Nadal in the final of Barcelona Open.
In his semi-final match against Dominic Thiem, Nadal looked a bit withered right from the start of the match with his forehands not finding the right places at times. Yet, he was still gaining some free points on his serve but it was the game of Thiem that showed absolute brilliance.
It looked as if Thiem was comfortable enough playing Nadal as he was returning every forehand of Rafael Nadal with a cross-court angle and this made life difficult for Rafa. Both the players went neck-to-neck till the fifth game where a double-fault from Rafa gave a break point to Thiem.
Rafa was resilient as he fought against Thiem for every point but it looked as if the Austrian was dictating the outcome of most of those points and Rafa was just running in the direction of the ball to land it in and hoping that an error comes from the racquet of Thiem.
But, the World No. 5 was so accurate in his placing that he found his cross-court angles working perfectly and even some of his drop shots were spot on as he took the first set 6-4.
The second set too went the same way as the first and it was Thiem once again who broke the top seed in the fifth game of the second set. It was only the second time Thiem broke out of the 11 opportunities he had against Rafa. Such was the determination of Rafael Nadal!
The crowd went absolutely numb after Rafa lost his service game in the second set as they didn't pay to come and see their favourite champion losing on the court named after him (Pista Rafa Nadal).
From then on, Thiem had to battle against two forces: one force was the Spaniard and the other was the crowd. They went berserk whenever Rafa won a point in the service of Thiem as he was three break points down in the 10th game of the second set where he was serving for the match.
He saved two of the break points with a forehand down the line winner and a magnificent drop shot and the third break point was saved with an ace. He just marched on the remaining two points and won the set and match. For twenty games in two sets, it took 2 hours and 4 minutes for the match to complete and this shows the intensity with which it was played.
Watch Thiem's brilliance in shot-making in this video below:
It was a bit unfortunate for Rafael Nadal as he had to face the only players that can beat him on clay in two successive tournaments (Fognini and Thiem). But, it was also concerning to see Rafa struggling with his forehand as it was taking time to settle in before it starts to get fired up.
Moreover for Thiem, this win will boost his confidence and chances for the upcoming French Open even though there are three more weeks of clay court tennis left before the French Open.
This victory might even give confidence to the remaining players to compete hard against Rafa in the future clay court tournaments and even though it's a distant possibility, Rafa's invincibility on clay has dropped down a bit or two this year.
In the first semi-final of the day, the young Russian Daniil Medvedev faced Kei Nishikori in yet another thrilling semi-final contest as both the players gave it everything. The match could have gone either way as it became unpredictable at some point in the third set.
Medvedev took the first set 6-4 and Nishikori took the second 6-3 and was on top with an early break in the third before Medvedev broke back and leveled the match 3-3. While serving to stay in the match at 5-6 in the third set, Nishikori obviously felt the pressure as he lost the game and set, 5-7.
It was Daniil Medvedev's 25th victory in 2019 and he is the only player to win 25 matches this year as this stat says a lot about his fitness.
Head-to-Head record between Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem
Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem previously played in the quarter-finals of ATP St. Petersburg in 2018 and it was Thiem who edged Daniil Medvedev with a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(2) victory. Since then, they hadn't played against each other and it is going to be an entertaining contest on Sunday because both of them are all-round players with a particular affinity towards the backhand play.
Unlike players like Federer or Tsitsipas whose backhand play is one-handed, Thiem's one-handed backhand can defend better than the rest. This quality proved fruitful for Thiem in today's match against Rafa as he was able to return the southpaw's forehand top-spin shots with ease.
Medvedev, on the other hand, also has a fantastic backhand as he proved that he can defend well against players like Novak Djokovic whose backhand used to be considered the best among the current crop.
It's going to be a battle of backhands between the two and going by the current form of both the players, it is tough to predict the winner. For the fans of tennis, it will be an eye-feast to watch these two battle it out for the title tomorrow.
Match Prediction: Dominic Thiem to win in three sets.