Before she begins her title defence in Rome this week, we put Elina Svitolina to the test last week at the Mutua Madrid Open, to find out how well she knows her fellow top-eight seeds.
Turns out the Ukrainian’s player trivia skills are just as impressive as her performances on the court.
Carlos Moya believes Rafael Nadal’s plans for Roland Garros have not been affected by his defeat to Dominic Thiem in the Madrid quarter-finals on Friday and has sent out a reminder to the world that his charge is “human” after all.
Nadal saw his 50-set, 21-match winning streak on clay come to an end at the hands of Thiem at the Caja Magica on Friday – in a clash that saw a nervy Nadal commit 29 unforced errors.
Thiem dominated the world No. 1 throughout the match, as Nadal looked out of ideas as to how he could stop the on-fire Austrian.
Nadal’s bulldozing form on clay over the past 12 months meant that he only lost more than four games just once in 50 consecutive sets on the surface. So it is understandable that his 7-5, 6-3 loss to Thiem came as a surprise to many.
“This is sport. The people take a lot of things for granted. They only see the player, they don’t see the human being,” Moya, Nadal’s coach, told Sport360 in Madrid.
“Everybody is hesitating, everybody is going through these situations where they can get nervous. He was nervous a few times in the past year but somehow he found the way to turn things around and today he wasn’t able to, also because of the opponent, he played very well and that’s it.”
Moya admits that Nadal was feeling nervous ahead of the match and even signs of it during the Mallorcan’s warm-up earlier in the day.
“Warm-up today was not really good. I try not to give importance to the way he’s warming up in the morning but today we’ve been on court a bit longer than expected because I saw that he was a bit nervous and his match today, he wasn’t feeling comfortable the way he played,” confessed Moya.
“I felt that in the morning but still so many times he didn’t warm-up properly and then the quality of the match was very good and the other way around, sometimes the warm-up was very good and the match not so good.”
Nadal heads straight to Rome where he is the top seed. He was drawn to potentially face Thiem in the quarter-finals once again, which would be a rematch of last year’s showdown between them at the same stage in the Italian capital.
Despite Nadal’s shaky form on Friday, Moya isn’t worried about their Roland Garros plans.
“I don’t think so, not for us at least,” he said when asked if this was a setback ahead of Nadal’s title defence in Paris.
“Maybe for the opponents they are going to realise that they can have a chance to beat him, we are aware of that. But we knew it was going to be very difficult to win all the tournaments on clay.
“We knew this could happen, it happened last year in Rome and then he played amazing tennis in the French Open. So I don’t think this is going to be a step back on his preparation for Paris.”
Nadal lost to Thiem in the Rome quarters last year then won a 10th Roland Garros title, without dropping a set.
The Spaniard swept all three clay Masters 1000 events (Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome) in the same season just once in his career, back in 2010.
If there was any doubt that Dominic Thiem poses the biggest threat to Rafael Nadal’s Roland Garros title defence this spring, the Austrian provided further proof to his cause on Friday with his 7-5, 6-3 defeat of the Spaniard in the Madrid quarter-finals
With his one victory, Thiem delivered a triple-punch to Nadal.
The No. 5 seed snapped Nadal’s 50-set, 21-match winning streak on clay, he ended the Mallorcan’s title defence in the Spanish capital and interrupted his reign as world No. 1 – for now – as Roger Federer returns to the top when the new rankings are released on Monday.
Thiem was the last man to take a defeat, or take a set off, Nadal last year in Rome before the Spaniard began his streak, and he was the man who ended it on Friday, almost 12 months later.
Nadal was out of sorts from the start, looking nervous, committing errors, and landing his groundstrokes in the middle of the service box.
The showdown was a far cry from the 6-0, 6-2 beatdown Nadal had delivered to Thiem in Monte Carlo a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t just because of the difference in altitude and conditions between the two locations.
“I think that today I wasn’t reading the ball well enough to be able to handle the situation, to put him in places where he didn’t feel comfortable to play,” explained a disappointed Nadal after the match.
“The fact also that the ball here flies a lot, and he puts a lot of topspin on the ball. I was not good enough with my forehand or my backhand to open to his forehand, then to find a space to the backhand.
“I wasn’t putting myself in position. He always had position to move around and to play a good shot, to strike the ball in a comfortable position for him.
“From there on, it’s difficult to harm a player like him because he’s a very powerful player, he has a lot of strength, he strikes the ball very hard, very violently. When you receive that ball, it’s very difficult to respond.”
Before the tournament started, Thiem sounded confident in his chances if he faced Nadal. The Austrian is now only one of three players – alongside Novak Djokovic and Gaston Gaudio – to defeat the Spaniard on three or more occasions on clay.
Showcasing arguably his best tennis of the season thus far, the 24-year-old was dictating play from the start, and wrapped up the win in just under two hours to set up a semi-final against Kevin Anderson.
While Thiem admits the conditions in Madrid suit him perfectly – it is where he reached his first Masters 1000 final last year – he also believes he produced exceptional tennis to overcome the King of Clay.
“I had to really increase my level compared to Monte-Carlo to beat Rafa here. He’s in a really great form. He won 21 matches on clay and 50 sets (in a row). This is amazing. So I had to play an extraordinary match, and that’s what I did,” said Thiem.
“Obviously two weeks ago in Monte-Carlo, he killed me Love and 2. It was very important I went in with a positive attitude, with an attitude to win. Like this I should go in every match against him.”
Nadal now heads to Rome, where he has been drawn to potentially face Thiem in another quarter-final.
Federer will be back to the world No. 1 spot, but the Swiss is out of action until the grass season, which means Nadal could return to the top if he wins Rome.
Nadal insists he is not too preoccupied by the No. 1 ranking at the moment.
“You cannot be No. 1 five months without competing,” said Nadal, who had knee troubles end of last season, and was out from end of January until April with a psoas injury.
“Of course, this is the ATP ranking. I think from Shanghai till Monte-Carlo, I hadn’t finished a single tournament. We’re talking about a lot of months that I gave up.
“If we were talking about the ranking of one year, if I played really good in one period of the year, which I’ve done, let’s be clear, I have been playing really good recently. Last year I made it to the finals in every single tournament. This year till now I had only one or two tournaments that I had played. This is the reality of this year.
“Five months without playing in a tournament means that I cannot be No. 1. I’m not even thinking about that. I’m not going to keep the No. 1 today. At the end of the year we will see what happens.
“Having said this, I think I placed myself in a good position more or less. I am No. 3 in the race of the year, which is the most important thing. I still have two good weeks on clay, and then I’ll keep on moving forward. This is the reality.”
Despite his disappointment with his form, Nadal is not too concerned about how this loss affects his chances in Rome or Roland Garros. He is aware of the strong record he has put together so far this clay season, and isn’t panicking.
“Being honest, I am not — as I said a lot of times — when I am winning, I am not super happy, and when I’m losing, I’m not super sad. Is not a drama that I lost the match, no? I don’t have to do a lot of things different,” said Nadal.
“I won 50 straight sets on this surface. Today I lost the match. It was not my day. But that’s part of this sport. That’s part of the sport in general. So I can’t go back to the hotel and think that I have to do a lot of things different to prepare the next events because will not be something that will be very smart for my part.”
For Thiem, he will have to overturn a 0-6 head-to-head record against Anderson if he wants to reach the Madrid final for a second consecutive year.
Anderson made it to his first Masters 1000 semi-final, on his 11th attempt, with a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3 victory over Dusan Lajovic on Friday.