The mother of all clay-court showdowns will take place on Court Philippe Chatrier on Friday when Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem – the two players with the most clay wins this season (both have 22) – face off in the Roland Garros semi-finals.
All six of their previous meetings have come on clay and this will be their fourth meeting in the last six weeks. Nadal beat Thiem in the Barcelona and Madrid finals before the 23-year-old Austrian got his revenge in the Rome quarter-finals.
Neither player has dropped a set this fortnight and the match is being described as a virtual final.
Thiem took out Novak Djokovic in straight sets on Wednesday to reach his second consecutive French Open semi-final while Nadal made it through via a Pablo Carreno Busta retirement.
Centre Court at Roland Garros is being described as a high-bouncing clay court by many players and pundits which can actually bring out the best in both players’ games.
It feels like this entire clay swing has been building up to the very moment for Nadal and Thiem and it’s a shame it’s coming at the semi-final stage rather than the final of the French Open.
“Thiem is a tough player. I hope that I won’t lose. I won in Barcelona, Madrid, and I lost to him in Rome. We played three times with Dominic. We can have a look at the statistics. We can talk about statistics for hours, but what is important is to consider the match. So either you play well and you advance to the next round or you lose and you’re out. If I play well, I hope that I will be able to book my spot in the final. If I don’t play well, I will be out of the tournament.”
“First of all, it’s great for me to be in the semi-finals again, to defend that. And of course, I think on Friday is coming the toughest opponent ever here in Roland Garros. Gonna be the fourth match against him in, like, five or six weeks. Not really big secrets. Well, he’s again in his best shape. So gonna be the toughest match what you can imagine.”
“It’s a joke how tough it is to win a slam. Because obviously now I beat Novak. On Friday is Nadal. In the finals there is another top star. That’s why it’s a slam is because it’s such a tough achievement.”
2 – Thiem is bidding to become the second Austrian player – man or woman – in history to reach a Grand Slam final. 1995 Roland Garros champion Thomas Muster is the only Austrian player to reach the final at a major.
3 – Thiem is bidding to become just the third player ever – alongside Novak Djokovic and Gaston Gaudio – to defeat Nadal on clay on three or more occasions.
3 – of the four semi-finalists – Wawrinka, Thiem, Nadal – are yet to drop a set this fortnight. It’s the first time this has happened at a Grand Slam since the 1988 Australian Open, when Pat Cash, Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander achieved the feat. It’s the first time this has happened at Roland Garros in the Open Era.
3 – Nadal is bidding to become the third man in history to make 10 appearances in the final at one Grand Slam event after Bill Tilden (10 US Open finals) and Roger Federer (10 Wimbledon finals).
4 – This is the fourth consecutive tournament meeting between Thiem and Nadal.
5 – In five of the previous six meetings between Nadal and Thiem, the winner of their match has gone on to win the title.
7 – wins and 15 losses for Thiem against top-five opposition (6-6 on clay).
9 – wins and zero losses for Nadal in Roland Garros semi-finals.
21 – wins and three losses for Nadal in Grand Slam semi-finals. His last Slam semi-final loss came to Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 US Open.
22 – Nadal has dropped just 22 games in reaching the semi-finals in Paris – the fewest games dropped into a Grand Slam semi-final in the Open Era where five best-of-five set matches have been played.
22 – tour-leading match wins on clay for both Thiem and Nadal.
22 – Nadal is looking to reach his 22nd Grand Slam final and take sole ownership of second place on the all-time list (behind Federer who has made 28) for most Grand Slam finals reached in the Open Era.
23 – years and 281 days, Thiem’s age. He is looking to become the youngest man to reach a Grand Slam final since Djokovic (23 years 253 days) and Murray (23 years 260 days) played each other in the final at the 2011 Australian Open. He would be the youngest man to reach the Roland Garros final since Nadal (22 years 5 days) in 2008.
29 – years and 105 days, the average age of the four men’s semi-finalists. It’s the second-highest at Roland Garros in the Open Era (behind 1968, when it was 33 years 224 days).
39 – games Thiem has dropped en route to the semis compared to 76 last year.
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