In Barcelona, Dominic Thiem played almost flawless clay-court tennis against Rafael Nadal in the semifinals on Saturday, out-slugging the King of Clay, 6-4, 6-4.
Nadal, an 11-time champion in Barcelona, had never lost a semifinal or final at the ATP 500-level tournament—he’d been a combined 22-0 in those two rounds, 11-0 in semifinals and 11-0 in finals.
But Thiem had other ideas, bringing up triple break point with Nadal serving at 2-all, and—after Nadal clawed back from 0-40 to 30-40—breaking for a 3-2 lead after a double fault from the Spaniard.
After holding for 4-2, Thiem threatened to go up a double break, bringing up four break points in a marathon 14-minute Nadal service game, but the Spaniard fought them all off, held serve and the two went into a holding pattern from there. Thiem eventually served out the opening set after 59 minutes, tracking down a Nadal drop shot and ripping a crosscourt forehand winner on set point.
The second set was almost identical to the first, with Thiem breaking for a 3-2 lead and the two holding serve from there until it was over. Nadal brought up triple break point with Thiem serving for the match at 6-4, 5-4, which brought his home crowd to its feet. But the Austrian reeled off five points in a row from 0-40, the last four with winners, to seal the victory after two hours and four minutes.
Thiem finished the match with eight more winners than unforced errors, 31 to 23. His forehand was particularly devastating, producing 15 winners to just 9 unforced errors. Nadal, meanwhile, struggled somewhat with his consistency, finishing the match with 21 winners to 23 unforced errors.
“I’m always super proud if I beat him because he’s the best player ever on this surface,” Thiem said after the match. “It’s always very special to beat him on clay. We’ve always had great matches in the past and today was also a very good match. I just think I was more lucky today, and I got the win.”
Thiem has now beaten Nadal four times in his career—all on clay—and once in each of the last four years - at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Rome in 2017, Madrid in 2018 and now Barcelona in 2019. He’s just the second player ever to beat the Spaniard four or more times on clay (Novak Djokovic has done it seven times).
He’s now through to the Barcelona final for the second time, having lost to Nadal in the 2017 final. On Sunday, Thiem will play Russian Daniil Medvedev, who rallied from a break down in the third set to beat two-time Barcelona champion Kei Nishikori in the first semifinal, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. It was Medvedev’s tour-leading 25th match win of the year.
Thiem and Medvedev have played each other just once before, with Thiem edging Medvedev in the quarterfinals of the indoor hardcourt event in St. Petersburg last September, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (2).
“This tournament has so much tradition,” Thiem said. “I played the final here two years ago and I’ll try to go one step further tomorrow, but Daniil is in the best shape of his life. It’s going to be tough.”