In Rome 2017, Dominic Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal in the quarter-final to deliver the only loss of the greatest clay courter on his beloved surface in the entire season, with Rafa winning titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Roland Garros.
As we all know, Nadal went on to dominate all the matches he had played on clay since that Rome loss, rattling off 21 consecutive triumphs and 50 sets on clay until he met Dominic again in Madrid in May 2018. The Austrian was inspired to give his best against world no.
1 (Nadal lost only two games against Dominic in Monte Carlo a few weeks ago), beating him 7-5, 6-3 after a grueling battle that lasted two hours and two minutes, dethroning Nadal and ousting him for the third time, all on clay.
Thus, Dominic became the third player with at least three wins over the Spaniard on clay after Gaston Gaudio and Novak Djokovic, propelling Roger Federer to the ATP throne as Nadal failed to defend 1000 points won in the Spanish capital a year ago.
Thiem barely escaped Borna Coric on the previous day, trailing 6-2, 5-4 before he performed a great comeback, gaining confidence to enter the match with Nadal in full attacking mode, taking the ball early and firing bullets from both the serve and groundstrokes to overpower the great rival who never found his rhythm.
As always, Nadal was there to fight for every point but it wasn’t his day, hitting 12 winners and 29 unforced errors while Thiem stood strong with 29 winners and 28 mistakes. The Austrian had to play against only five break points and Rafa broke him twice, not enough for a more favorable result after suffering five breaks from 12 opportunities offered to Dominic.
Interestingly, Nadal was in front in the shortest points, hanging in there with service winners that got him out of trouble many times, losing ground in the rallies that went beyond the fourth stroke by the sheer power and depth of Thiem’s shots.
Dominic was off to a good start, creating two break chances in the opening game that Nadal fended off to avoid an early setback, staying in touch until 3-3 when Dominic broke to move ahead. Serving for the set at 5-4, the Austrian wasted a set point and Nadal broke back, stealing the momentum before the closing games.
Nonetheless, he suffered another break in game 11 and Dominic sealed the opener with a solid hold a few minutes later, prevailing after more than an hour. The second set was also challenging and the Austrian gained the advantage when he seized the fifth break point in game three, fending off a pair of break chances in the next game to forge a 3-1 lead.
Rafa broke back to level the score at 3-3 but that was all we saw from him, as Thiem grabbed breaks in games seven and nine to seal the deal and avenge that tight loss from the final in Caja Magica a year ago.