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.”
Elina Svitolina feels she must go back to the drawing board and make adjustments to her game, the Ukrainian told reporters after her US Open fourth-round exit.
Svitolina, who is still searching for a maiden Grand Slam semi-final, lost 6-3, 1-6, 6-0 to Anastasija Sevastova, who is through to her third consecutive US Open quarter-final.
The No. 7 seed could not hide her disappointment following the conclusion of her Grand Slam season, and believes some changes need to be done regarding her game after the significant weight loss she underwent earlier this season.
“I think there is few things I have to sit down with my team and think about. I think physically I have to get much stronger since, yeah, there have been a change in my body,” Svitolina said on Sunday.
“I think it takes a little bit more time than I expected to get used to it, because I have to change a little bit my game style. Because playing the same way as I was playing last year, I know my body is not allowing me to show my best.
“I have to think what I have to do differently. For the moment, it’s tough to say, because after the match you are sad and disappointed.”
Svitolina has won three titles in Brisbane, Dubai and Rome this season but at the majors, she lost to Elise Mertens in the Australian Open quarters, fell to Mihaela Buzarnescu in the French Open third round, and lost her opener at Wimbledon to Tatjana Maria.
“I would say it’s average,” said Svitolina of her 2018 Grand Slam results.
“I was expecting a little bit better results, especially Roland Garros and here, as well. But I lost to the players that were like playing really amazing tennis against me and was tough matches. So, yeah, it’s disappointing, but I have to look forward and, yeah, just go back on court and put the hours of work.”
The season is not over yet for Svitolina though and she is already thinking about securing a spot in the WTA Finals in Singapore.
The 23-year-old is fifth in the Race to Singapore and is looking to make her second consecutive appearance at the top-eight season finale.
“I showed good tennis [this hard-court swing]. Yeah, no, I’m moving forward step by step, little by little, which is good, but I want to improve, I want to be better. It takes time. I’m ready for hard work. And Asian swing, as well. My goal is to play in Singapore, so I’m going to do everything what it takes to be there.”
Dominic Thiem finally cleared the fourth round hurdle at a Grand Slam not played on clay to become the first Austrian man to reach the US Open quarter-finals since Thomas Muster in 1996.
The ninth-seeded Thiem had lost all six of his previous Grand Slam fourth rounds on any surface other than clay prior to his impressive 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (2) over Kevin Anderson at the US Open on Sunday.
Thiem entered the contest carrying a poor 1-6 record against the fifth-seeded Anderson, who was a finalist at the US Open last year.
The 24-year-old faced zero break points on his own serve despite landing just 49 per cent of his first serves in. Thiem dropped a mere total of four points on his first serve and hit 42 winners against just 13 unforced errors.
“First of all I served really, really well today, not the best percentage but I almost made every point when the first serve came. I changed my return position on his serve. It’s a huge court, that made a difference because I could go far back like I do on clay,” explained Thiem.
Last year, Thiem lost in the US Open fourth round after leading Juan Martin del Potro by two-sets-to-love. The Argentine looked ill and on the verge of retiring but somehow turned things around, delivering a heartbreaking loss to Thiem.
“It was not on my mind, but I was pretty close last year. It was very painful,” said Thiem on Sunday.
“So I’m happy that I made it, and it was an amazing victory over one of the best players right now. Also first time quarter-finals outside Paris, but most of all, I’m happy with the performance.”
Anderson, who made the Wimbledon final in July, was broken three times during the two hour 37 minute showdown.
Dominic Thiem REFUSED to lose this rally 👏 pic.twitter.com/qyKKEMsNJY
— ESPN (@espn) September 2, 2018
“I definitely felt he played a great match, he made life pretty difficult for me. He defended amazingly. He hit some unbelievable passing shots. I think overall, I didn’t feel like I played poorly today. Hats off to him, he was definitely the better player today,” Anderson said of Thiem.
Despite making the finals in New York last year, none of his matches were scheduled on the main Arthur Ashe stadium. The US Open’s second show court, Louis Armstrong stadium was renovated ad inaugurated this year, and it has witnessed a slew of upsets, already gaining the nickname ‘Graveyard of Champions’. Did Anderson find any trouble playing on Louis Armstrong on Sunday?
“No not at all. I thought it was a great atmosphere a few days ago when I played Denis [Shapovalov], it was one of the most exciting atmospheres I’ve ever been part of. It’s definitely pretty loud out there, constant noise, but as long as it’s constant, I don’t mind that too much.
“It is what it is. Playing on Armstrong is great, it’s a pretty big stadium. I understand the guys out on Ashe, they’re superstars of our sport, they get people watching.”
Anderson’s ranking is expected to dip from No. 5 to No. 9 after his fourth-round exit but he’s already looking ahead to the Asian swing.
“Of course it’s very disappointing. I wanted to be here right until the end. It was definitely Dom’s day today. I’ll keep my head up, look objectively and see where I can improve,” said the 32-year-old South African.