Dominic Thiem battled past an in-form Guido Pella in the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell on Friday, setting up a semifinal clash with top seed and 11-time champion Rafael Nadal.

Pella has been playing the best tennis of his career this year, winning his first ATP title in Sao Paulo last month, reaching his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal in Monte Carlo last week—falling to Nadal in a tight two-setter—and breaking the Top 30 for the first time this week, when he rose to a career-high No. 28.

The Argentine, who had taken out No. 6 seed Karen Khachanov earlier in the week, hung tough with the No. 3-seeded Thiem early on, the two players locked at 5-all in the first set after 55 minutes. But that’s when Thiem took it to another level, ripping his groundstrokes with more and more depth and authority, winning seven of the next eight games to build a 7-5, 5-1 lead.

After one last Pella hold, Thiem served out a 7-5, 6-2 victory, firing an ace out wide on match point.

Thiem finished the day with an even 26 winners to 26 unforced errors, with more than half of those winners—15 of 26—coming on his forehand side. He also hit five aces to zero double faults.

And as Thiem gathered steam, Pella had a tougher time hitting through him—the Argentine had 14 winners on the day, but 13 of those winners came in the first set, with only one in the second set.

Barcelona blockbuster: Dominic Thiem sets up semifinal against Nadal

Barcelona blockbuster: Dominic Thiem sets up semifinal against Nadal


Up next for Thiem will be a blockbuster semifinal match-up against Nadal, who edged Germany’s Jan-Lenard Struff in a close two-setter in his quarterfinal match earlier in the day, 7-5, 7-5.

Nadal leads the head-to-head with Thiem, 8-3, but the Austrian’s three wins have all come on clay, once in each of the last three years. He outdid the Spaniard in the semifinals of Buenos Aires in 2016, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (4); in the quarterfinals of Rome in 2017, 6-4, 6-3; and most recently in the quarterfinals of Madrid last year, 7-5, 6-3.

Thiem’s wins at Rome and Madrid were actually Nadal’s only two losses on clay in 2017 and 2018.

“It’s always one of the biggest challenges possible in tennis to play Rafa on clay, to play him at the tournament which he won already 11 times, with his own crowd in the back, with his Spanish crowd,” Thiem told “So it’s going to be unbelievably tough, but we had great matches in the past, and I think we are both playing quite well, so I hope that’s the same case tomorrow.

“I think we can expect a good match.”

The 17-time Grand Slam champion has won the pair’s last two meetings—both in Grand Slams last year: a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the French Open final, and a 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) nail-biter in the quarterfinals of the US Open, their only career meeting away from clay.

They’ve met once before in Barcelona, with Nadal beating Thiem in the 2017 final, 6-4, 6-1.