Dominic Thiem snapped Rafael Nadal‘s 21-match, 50-set winning streak on clay with a 7-5, 6-3 victory in the Madrid Open quarter-finals on Friday — a result that ended the Spaniard’s title defence at the tournament, as well as his world No. 1 reign.
Nadal needed to defend his Madrid title in order to stay at the top of the rankings and his loss on Friday means Roger Federer — who is sitting out the clay season — will return to the summit on Monday.
An out-of-sorts Nadal had won his last 50 consecutive sets on clay, with his last defeat – and set dropped – on the surface coming against Thiem in Rome last year. It was Thiem who once again disrupted Nadal’s dominance on the red dirt, as the Austrian moves into the semi-finals, where he faces Kevin Anderson.
Thiem was dialed in from the start, and blasted a forehand down-the-line to get his hands on a break point in the first game of the match. Nadal saved it, and another one, to hold for 1-0.
Thiem was fierce on the forehand side, showcasing arguably his best tennis of the season thus far. The Austrian broke for 4-3, courtesy of two forehand errors from Nadal.
Serving for the set, Thiem squandered a set point and allowed Nadal back in it, as the Mallorcan broke for 5-all.
A wide backhand from Nadal gave Thiem two break points in the next game and a netted forehand from the Mallorcan gave his opponent a second opportunity to serve for the set.
Nadal faced two break points in the third game of the second set, as double faults and slow serving once again plagued him. The defending champion saved both but ultimately got broken as Thiem inched ahead 2-1.
A roaring leap from Nadal set the stadium into frenzy as the home favourite got two break points on the Thiem serve in game four. But Thiem serve-and-volleyed to save the first and safely held for 3-1.
But Nadal was folding just yet and broke back to level for 3-all. Thiem pulled ahead once again, breaking then holding at love for 5-3.
The No. 5 seed made it three games in a row, breaking Nadal again to secure victory in less than two hours. Nadal committed 29 unforced errors against just 12 winners.
Thiem is 0-6 head-to-head against Anderson, who finally reached a Masters 1000 semi-final on his 11th attempt. Anderson overcame Dusan Lajovic — who had defeated Juan Martin del Potro in the previous round — 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3 to make the last-eight.
“I must be honest, I think I did a good job then because I didn’t really think of it too much,” the South African said of his 0-10 record in Masters 1000 quarter-finals heading into Friday’s match.
“I had lots of reason to think about it. Indian Wells and Miami, not that long ago. Two 7-6s in the third. To fall a bit short, match points against Carreno Busta in Miami.
“Of course, I knew the opportunity existed today. I thought first step was putting myself in that position. I was able to do that. Going out there today, I just really focused on what I needed to do. Thinking too much about previous results is not going to do me too much good, outside of the fact that, sure, there was motivation to get through. I really wanted to break through and be in the semi-finals. It was a goal that I set myself.
“By no means that means that I’m done. It definitely feels good. It was a mini goal accomplished for me today.”
Nadal beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-3 6-4 on the clay to take his winning set streak to 50 and eclipse McEnroe’s total which the American achieved on carpet in 1984.
Nadal, who is looking for a sixth career Madrid Open title, broke Schwartzman in the sixth game of each set and appeared to be on course for a comfortable win.
World number 16 Schwartzman served up a minor scare by breaking back for 4-4 in the second set, but Nadal responded immediately and closed out for a history-making win.
Nadal will next face the man he beat he beat in last year’s final, Dominic Thiem, after the fifth seed came from a set and a break down to edge out Croatian Borna Coric 2-6 7-6 (5) 6-4.
Coric served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and also had three break point chances in the eighth game of the decider before Thiem held his nerve to claim victory.
Previously In-form fourth seed Juan Martin Del Potro suffered a shock 3-6 6-4 7-6 (6) defeat to Dusan Lajovic, handing the Serbian the first win over a top 10 player of his career.
Lajovic will next face South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who reached his first Madrid quarter-final with a 6-3 7-6 (7) triumph over Kevin Anderson of Germany.
Britain’s Kyle Edmund built on his second round win over Novak Djokovic by seeing off Belgian eighth seed David Goffin 6-3 6-3, and will next face Denis Shapovalov, who beat Canadian compatriot Milos Raonic 6-4 6-4.
The final quarter-final will be between second seed Alexander Zverev – a 6-4 6-2 winner – over Leonardo Mayer, and John Isner, who edged Pablo Cuevas 6-7 (9) 7-6 (3) 7-6 (4).
Rafael Nadal is two sets away from breaking John McEnroe’s record of consecutive sets won on a single surface after the world No. 1 claimed his 48th set in a row on clay with a 6-3, 6-1 rout of Gael Monfils on Wednesday.
McEnroe’s mark of 49 consecutive sets won on carpet came in 1984 and Nadal can match or break that record when he takes on Diego Schwartzman in the Madrid Open third round on Thursday.
Nadal was nearly flawless against Monfils, dismissing the Frenchman, who returned from a back injury just last week, in 73 minutes.
The defending champion had to save three break points early in the first set but then never looked back, claiming a 20th straight victory on clay in the process.
Nadal seems to be laser-focused this clay season, winning 11th titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona before coming to Madrid. But for those wondering if he has an eye on McEnroe’s record, the Spaniard was clear in his thoughts about that.
“You find a new stat. I’m lost. Each time is a less important stat,” Nadal said in Spanish to a local reporter when quizzed about the prospect of breaking McEnroe’s mark.
“Look, if it was important, I had no idea about that stat. I am not saying that it’s not important, but what is important is I made it to the third round of this tournament. I’ve played a really good match. I beat an opponent who is difficult.
“The feelings are very good. This is what matters and what motivates me and gives me joy: the feeling to be able to play another day in front of the crowd here in Madrid.”
Nadal spent more than two months sidelined with a psoas injury before coming back early April to lead Spain in their Davis Cup quarter-final against Germany. He hasn’t lost a match since his return, sweeping all 13 he has contested so far.
Asked if there was something he feels he has specifically improved since his return from injury, or what he is most proud of during that period, the Mallorcan said: “I can’t improve a lot because I didn’t practice. That’s the real thing, no? I have been injured, and I didn’t have the chance to prepare my game a lot.
“What I am more proud, of course I did a lot of things well since I came back. I play with the right intensity, the right focus all the time. My backhand is working great. The forehand working well, too, as always, more or less. But the backhand is a shot that is working well.
“What I am most pleased with is I am recovered from my injury on the psoas. That makes me feel strong and to go on court with confidence that I can hold tough matches. That’s important for me especially on this surface.”