Nadal sets sights on French Open after shock Rome Masters defeat

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Rafael Nadal will set his sights on winning a 10th French Open title, after a day of “fishing or golf”, following his shock defeat to Dominic Thiem in the Rome Masters quarter-finals on Friday.

Nadal, a former seven-time champion in the Italian capital, had dominated the Austrian to win the Madrid Masters final last week.

But the Spanish fourth seed had no answer to the eighth seed’s aggressive approach and impressive range of shots on a shocked centre court as Thiem raced to a 6-4, 6-3 victory in 1hr 51 minutes, ending Nadal’s 17-match winning run.

Thiem will now meet the winner of the quarter-final clash between four-time winner Novak Djokovic, seeded second, and unseeded Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro.

Nadal, meanwhile, said he intends to have a free weekend before ramping up his preparations for Roland Garros from Monday.

“Tomorrow I’ll be in Mallorca fishing or playing golf, or another thing. I’m going to rest a little bit, I think I deserve it,” said Nadal.

“Then from Monday and Tuesday I will start to prepare for Roland Garros. It’s an important event for me.”

“If you do things well, you have more chances in Roland Garros. I hope to play my best tennis in Roland Garros.”

Nadal, given a first round bye, played only three games of his second round match with Nicolas Almagro before his unseeded compatriot retired injured on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old made amends for his comparative lack of playing time with a 6-3, 6-4 win over American Jack Sock on Thursday.

But from the outset against Thiem, Nadal looked in trouble.

The Austrian’s serve, precision and movement were near flawless and soon had Nadal hitting shots wide of the mark.

As the centre court crowd steadily got behind the 23-year-old upstart, Nadal’s confidence waned.

Before the two-hour mark, Thiem avenged his Madrid Masters defeat, breaking Nadal in their final game when the Spaniard hit a wayward return.

“I didn’t play very well,” added Nadal. “I want to congratulate him because he was better than me this afternoon.”

“Great, in all aspects. He played long, he played very aggressive, hitting the ball very strong with high intensity.”

“In general I was not able to push him back. He got a lot of points, maximum, more times than me. And that’s the key of this game. It’s obvious I didn’t play my best match.”

Nadal suggested the intensity of a clay court season that has seen him play his best tennis on the surface for the past two years had been to blame.

“I’ve been playing a lot. It’s difficult, every day. Madrid then Rome back-to-back, after Barcelona.”

“It’s not easy playing every day for the last four weeks.”

*From AFP

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Nadal into Rome Masters quarter-finals

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Rafael Nadal, enjoying his best season on clay in two years, booked a quarter-final clash against Austria’s Dominic Thiem, whom he beat in the Madrid Masters final last week, after an “aggressive” 6-3, 6-4 win over American Jack Sock, seeded 13th.

Novak Djokovic, beaten in the final by Britain’s Andy Murray last year, will now face Juan Martin del Potro in the quarters after the unseeded Argentinian’s 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 win over Japanese seventh seed Kei Nishikori.

Nadal, a seven-time champion in Rome and now on a 17-match claycourt winning streak, also swept Djokovic aside in the semis in Madrid.

But French Open champion Djokovic said: “I’m getting closer, I feel like today’s match was one of the better ones I’ve played on clay this season, and in the past couple of months.

“It’s coming at the right time, we’re getting closer to Roland Garros. All the players are looking to raise their game for Paris.

“I’ve been doing my best to optimise my game to get it to the highest possible level at the moment … right now, as days are passing by, I feel more comfortable on the court, more confident hitting the ball.”

It kept Djokovic on track to meet Nadal in the semis after the Spaniard ended Sock’s hopes in 1hr 20min.

“It was a good victory against Jack, he’s a tough opponent. He hit the ball hard with a lot of spin,” said Nadal.

“I played a more aggressive game and I’m serving better. I can play a bit more aggressive than the way I played tonight, but overall I’m happy.

“Tomorrow I’m up against Dominic, he’s a player who’s having more success on clay so it will be another tough battle.”

Thiem saved three match points in beating Sam Querrey 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9/7).

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Nadal reaches Barcelona Open final; Murray knocked out by Thiem

Sport360 staff 29/04/2017
Heading to the semi-finals: Nadal.

Rafael Nadal moved to within one win of a 10th Barcelona title on Saturday when he swept past Argentina's Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 6-4 in the semi-finals of the clay court event.

World number five Nadal, who captured a 10th Monte Carlo Masters last weekend, will face Dominic Thiem in the final after the Austrian stunned world number one Andy Murray 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

Nadal, 30, who will be playing in his 106th career final on Sunday, won the Barcelona title in 2005-09, 2011-13 and 2016.

Despite his straight sets win, on a centre court which is named after him, Nadal was far from pleased with his week's work in the Catalan capital where rain has made the conditions heavy. "In weeks like this, the one who manages to cope with the conditions we've had, which have been significantly different (than normal), is the one that survives," said the Spaniard. "They aren't the best conditions for me and against Zeballos it wasn't easy at all. He took me out of my comfort zone, particularly in the first few shots of the rally which is what did damage." Nadal will take a 2-1 career record over Thiem into Sunday's final with all their meetings having come on clay. "Thiem combined some brilliant shots with some errors against Andy. It will be difficult, he is one of the best players in the world on clay," he added. Thiem fired 41 winners and six aces as the fourth seed advanced to his 12th ATP World Tour final with a first win over Murray. "It's the first win over a World No. 1, so it's really something special," said Thiem who added it would "be a great honour to play Nadal". "But it's also the first win over a Top 10 guy this season. There are many positive things to take from today's match. "For me personally, it's the best victory this year so far. I went down in the third set when he broke me in the first game. But the way I came back mentally was a huge step forward today."
Murray squeezed past Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a three-hour encounter on Friday and looked flat-footed as Thiem roared through the opening set with three breaks of serve in just over half an hour. The Scot had to stave off another break point in a marathon opening game to the second set. But he held on and then jumped at his chance to break for 5-3 before serving out to take the match to a decider. Murray, though, still looks a pale shadow of the player that rose to number one on a spectacular run at the end of last year as he struggles for form and fitness after an elbow injury. Thiem had to battle back from a break down in the third, but constantly put pressure on the Murray serve and broke another three times in the deciding set to seal his place in the final. From AFP

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