Rafael Nadal falls in Madrid: Phenomenal Dominic Thiem stops Spaniard's 21-match winning streak on clay

Leye Aduloju in ATP 11 May 2018
  • Rafael Nadal crashed out of the Madrid Open after a 7-5 6-3 loss to Dominic Thiem
  • Thiem put up a sensational performance to halt Nadal's 21-match, 50-set winning streak on clay
  • Nadal will lose his No. 1 ranking on Mondaym with Roger Federer set to take over at the top of the rankings
  • Watch and bet on tennis live from Madrid at bet365 > live streaming > tennis (geo restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify)
Rafael Nadal. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal's 21-match winning streak on clay came to an end on Friday as Dominic Thiem produced a magnificent performance to take out the Spaniard in the quarter finals of the Madrid Open. 

ATP Mutua Madrid Open tennis is live from Madrid from 6-13 May 
Watch and bet on tennis live from Madrid at bet365 > live streaming > tennis (geo restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify)

Widely seen as the biggest threat to Nadal on clay, Thiem had been well off his best in the European clay court season, but the Austrian roared back to form on Friday, muscling his way past Nadal in an hour and 56 minutes. The loss also means Nadal will surrender the No. 1 ranking on Monday, with Roger Federer set to take over from the Spaniard on top of the world rankings.

Thiem has always had the power and the aggression to hit through anyone on this surface, but the problem had often been his failure to manage and control these skills. However, in a performance not to dissimilar to the one he produced against Nadal in Rome last year, he put it all together once again on Friday, reminding everyone just why may believe he is regarded as the heir apparent to the great Spaniard on this surface. 

“I had to play an extraordinary match, and that's what I did," said Thiem. "It takes a really good match to beat Rafa on clay, but I think a very important thing was that I went in with the attitude that I can beat him. Obviously, two weeks ago in Monte-Carlo, he killed me love and two. It was very important I went into the match with a positive attitude, with an attitude to win". 
“I moved well [and] I was physically tough. But always against him, there are long rallies. You get out of breath. My groundstrokes were the best, they were very aggressive. I think I really hurt him with them… I didn't make too many stupid errors. That was important.”

After that loss to Thiem in Rome last year, Nadal went on a tear on clay, winning his next 21 matches in straight sets, tallying a record-breaking 50 consecutive sets in the process. The great Spaniard was barely losing games, let alone sets, and after claiming eleventh titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona earlier this season, it had almost become a forgone conclusion that he would sweep through the rest of the European clay season. 

But Thiem had other ideas. 

The Austrian had been spared just two games in his last meeting with Nadal in Monte Carlo, but as good as Nadal was on that day, Thiem was well below par. Friday was his shot at redemption, and right from the very first game, it was evident that the Prince of Clay had come to play this time around. 

Before the match, Thiem had spoken about needing the perfect performance to beat Nadal, and this was very close to it. He was ultra-aggressive with the forehand, which accounted for 22 of his 29 winners. 

Nadal's 21-match winning streak came to an end. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP) (Photo credit should read OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP/Getty Images)

Nadal was put under pressure immediately, forced to save two break points in the opening game of the match. 

With Thiem crushing the ball with direction, and backing it up with excellent movement, Nadal was feeling the pressure at the other end. The Spaniard sent a forehand into the net to give Thiem another break point in the seventh game, and the Austrian converted this time, after yet another error off the forehand wing from an unusually panicky Nadal. Closing out a set against a man who had won 50 straight sets was always going to be tricky, especially if that man is the King of Clay, and Thiem fluffed his lines when the moment came. The world number seven just missed with a forehand down the line on his first set point at 5-4, and a double fault and a forehand error later, Nadal had the break back!

The world number one (soon to be deposed, of course) seemed to have wrestled back the momentum at that point, but the nervous Spaniard threw in a shocker of a game to drop his serve again, smashing an overhead into the net to fall into a 0-30 hole, and hitting a tentative short forehand into the net on break point to present Thiem with a second chance at closing out the set.

The Austrian could hardly believe his luck, and he made no mistake at the second time of asking, smashing an ace out wide on his second set point to halt Nadal’s 50-set winning streak on clay.

The start of the second set was always going to be important, with Nadal expected to offer some sort of response, but Thiem remained unshaken- a couple of early forehand bullets sent the message to the other end that he was going nowhere. Thiem had Nadal in all sorts of trouble in the third game, and after missing four break points, the relentless Austrian eventually had his way on the fifth, after Nadal missed his mark with yet another forehand.

Thiem backed up the break with a tough hold, hitting his way out of trouble from 15-40, but he wouldn’t get so fortunate in his next service game, completely losing his forehand radar for the first time in the match to give up his serve and allow Nadal back in the set.

Dominic Thiem. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Undeterred, Thiem went after a wobbly Nadal yet again- bringing up two more break points in the next game with a glorious backhand pass, and converting when Nadal pulled a backhand long. That set off a run of three straight games for Thiem, as he broke Nadal one last time to complete a sensational victory. An outrageous backhand down the line brought up a first match point, and quite fittingly a blazing inside-out forehand winner confirmed the win.

In truth, this wasn’t Nadal’s greatest performance, as he hit just 12 winners to 29 unforced errors, but  lot of those was down to Thiem’s brilliance, as the Austrian took time away, and at times the racket away from the the King of Clay.

“Of course, I'm upset,” admitted Nadal. “I tried to come back. I tried to do it a couple of times, but I wasn’t good enough today. He was better than me today, that's the end of the story. Some days you don't play as well as you'd like to play. Also, when that happens, it's because your opponent is doing really well. I just want to congratulate him, that's all".  
“I think that today I didn't read the ball well enough to be able to handle the situation, to put him into places where he didn't feel comfortable. I was not good enough with my forehand or my backhand to open up to his forehand.”

The challenge for Thiem will be to maintain this sort of level over an extended period. Remember, his last victory over Nadal in Rome last year was followed by a crushing loss to Novak Djokovic, where he won only one game. Next up for the Austrian is a semi-final meeting with Kevin Anderson, against whom he has bizarrely lost all six previous meetings, but this will be their first meeting on Thiem’s favourite clay.

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Rafael Nadal falls in Madrid: Phenomenal Dominic Thiem stops Spaniard's 21-match winning streak on clay

Dominic Thiem produced another phenomenal performance to take out Rafael Nadal in the quarter finals of the Madrid Open.

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