Rafael Nadal has faced off with Dominic Thiem on 10 previous occasions but on Tuesday, the pair will meet on hard courts for the first time, with a place in the US Open semi-finals on the line.
So far, their rivalry has been contested exclusively on clay, with Nadal leading the Austrian 7-3 head-to-head.
Tuesday’s clash will provide a new chapter for the duo and Nadal is looking forward to the challenge.
“Thiem is more of a specialist on clay, and so am I, so it [playing him on hard court] is not something favorable for me,” the US Open defending champion told Spanish press on Sunday following his four-set win over Nikoloz Basilashvili.
“We know each other well, we know each other’s games well. Whoever plays with higher intensity and higher adrenaline on Tuesday, will probably have more options to win.”
This is the first time since 2011 that Nadal has made the quarter-finals or better at each of the four Grand Slams of the season. The Mallorcan lost in the Melbourne quarters, won Roland Garros for an 11th time, and fell to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon semis this year.
“Last year I was nearly one point away from doing that too,” said Nadal, referring to his close five-setter with Gilles Muller in the Wimbledon fourth round last season. “But anyway it’s a good stat, it’s something positive, it’s something that shows I’ve been competitive on all surfaces in practically all the weeks I’ve played this year, and I’m happy about it.”
On Tuesday, Thiem ended a six-match losing streak in Grand Slam fourth rounds not played on clay by posting just his second victory in eight meetings with last year’s runner-up Kevin Anderson in straight sets.
Nadal was tested in his last two rounds, edging past Karen Khachanov in four close sets in round three, before dropping a set to Basilashvili on Sunday.
Asked what he thinks he needs to improve in his game moving forward, the three-time US Open champion said: “I think a little bit the speed of my cross-court. My forehand down-the-line is working well, which is a very important shot for me. What’s not working as well [as my down-the-line] is the opening ball towards the backhand of the opponent.
“I’ve hit very good down-the-line forehands but too many of them are right on the edge, with very little space. When I open more the court towards my opponent’s backhand, I have more margin to hit my down-the-line forehand and my possibilities increase much more.
“And, above all, the drive is better in general. Today, I served well at certain moments, so I think I’m on the right track. I have to try and consolidate that good feeling I had on serve in the second set and I finished serving well as well.”
Nadal has lots of respect for Thiem, he is the only one who has managed to trouble the Spaniard on clay in the past two seasons.
“He’s a fantastic player,” Nadal said of the Austrian.
“He’s a very powerful player. He’s a great guy. Very good relationship with him. Happy for him that he’s in quarter-finals here. Last year he lost a very tough match against Del Potro here.
“Yeah, in some way he deserves to be where he is. Gonna be a tough one. He’s very powerful player, and, yeah, he knows how to play these kind of matches. I need to play my best match of the tournament if I want to keep having chances to stay in the tournament.”
Thiem is aware of what he did well to defeat Nadal in the past but maintains that nobody’s game matches up well against the world No. 1.
“I think that I have very powerful ground strokes, and I can even hurt him with them. But the key is to play really fast and powerful. But on the same time, not make too many mistakes,” said the 24-year-old Thiem.
“Yeah, I did it sometimes against him, but it’s a risky game style also, because it can happen that I make too many mistakes and then it looks black.”
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