Previewing a blockbuster US Open quarterfinal between Nadal and Thiem

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Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem will square off for the 11th time—and for the first time away from clay—in a blockbuster quarterfinal match under the lights at the US Open on Tuesday night.

Nadal, the best clay-court player in the world, and Thiem, arguably the second-best, have played all 10 of their previous meetings on clay, including three times at Roland Garros—Nadal won all three of those meetings in straight sets, in the second round in 2014, the semifinals in 2017 and the final this year.

Thiem is the only player to beat Nadal on his favorite surface the last two years —at Rome last year and Madrid this year. After his fourth-round win here over Kevin Anderson, a finalist at both the US Open last year and Wimbledon this year, Thiem was asked why he’s had success against Nadal.

“I was really aggressive,” Thiem said. “I have very powerful groundstrokes, and I can hurt him with them. The key is to play really fast and powerful but not make too many mistakes. I did it sometimes against him, but it’s a risky game style also, because it can happen that I make too many mistakes.”

Playing aggressively without too many mistakes is a strategy Thiem has  been putting into practice in New York—in his first four rounds he’s hit a combined total of 207 winners to 124 unforced errors. And the ratio was actually at its best against Anderson: 42 winners to 13 unforced errors.

Even more impressive is that Thiem and Anderson played a grand total of 199 points in their fourth-round match, and 13 unforced errors in 199 points is roughly just one unforced error every 15 points.

“I’m really looking forward to playing him on hard court for the first time,” said Thiem, who is playing his first Grand Slam quarterfinal outside of Paris. “On clay, I think it’s one of the biggest challenges in sports to beat this guy or to compete with this guy. I hope it’s a little bit more comfortable on hard court.”

Nadal’s game has actually transcended surface at the Grand Slams in 2018—he’s now reached the quarterfinals of all four of the Slams this year, something no other man or woman has done.

After his fourth-round win over Nikoloz Basilishvili, the world No. 1 praised the world No. 9’s game.

“He’s a fantastic player,” Nadal said of Thiem. “He’s a very powerful player. He’s a great guy. I have a very good relationship with him. I’m happy for him that he’s in the quarterfinals here.

“It’s a different kind of match than clay, but it’s still a tennis match. It’s a different thing, but in some way, I know how he plays. And he knows how I’m playing. It’s going to be an interesting one.”

Thiem will be going for the biggest win of his career at a Grand Slam. To date, his best win at one of the majors came against a No. 2-ranked Novak Djokovic in the French Open quarterfinals last year.

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