Madrid Open: Rafael Nadal set to relinquish top spot to Roger Federer after defeat to Dominic Thiem
What’s the story?
A brilliant Dominic Thiem ended Rafael Nadal’s winning streak on clay, sending the 16-time Grand Slam champion out in the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open on Friday. As Nadal’s game collapsed into a heap of errors, Thiem showed his pinpoint accuracy and aggression to carve out a 7-5, 6-3 win over the Spaniard, a year after losing the final to him at the Caja Magica.
Incidentally, the World No. 7 Austrian thus becomes the first man to beat the King of Clay on his most preferred surface since his triumph over the southpaw in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters in 2017.
With Nadal dropping 820 points, the result ensures that Roger Federer will return to the World No. 1 position on Monday, a little over a month after relinquishing the top spot to his greatest nemesis on April 2. The Swiss hasn’t touched a ball since suffering a shock second round loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis at the Miami Masters on March 24.
In case you didn’t know
Nadal’s loss came a day after he won an incredible 50 consecutive sets on clay to break John McEnroe’s record of 49 sets won in a row on a single surface. The former World No. 1 had accomplished that feat on carpet in 1984.
The heart of the matter
Nadal struggled for most of the match as Thiem grew in confidence. The fifth seeded Austrian was able to make a service breakthrough five times from 12 chances. In contrast, Nadal could break the Austrian only twice in the quarter-final clash that lasted 1 hour 56 minutes.
The top seed looked in dire straits at 1-3 in the second set, having gone down a set and a break. He battled back from there to level matters at 3-3.
However, the relentless Thiem raised his level once more as Nadal’s dipped. With some stunning angles, he kept Rafa on the run and put him under pressure to extract shorter replies from him. Nadal could not find a way out and his title defence came crashing soon after.
This was Rafa’s first defeat after 21 consecutive match wins on the red dirt. The 10-time French Open champion came into this tournament having won titles at the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona earlier this year.
Next up for Nadal is the Rome Masters, scheduled to be held from May 14. Thiem and Nadal have again been drawn to meet each other in the quarter-finals there. A title win will take Nadal back to the numero uno position.
With due respect to Thiem, who played out of his skin, Nadal didn’t look like his usual self on Friday. Fatigue probably played a part as the Spaniard lacked the sharpness that he is known for. Hopefully a break for a few days will help Nadal recharge his batteries before he sets his sights on winning the Rome Masters.