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ATP ROME: Impressive Thiem thumps Nadal to reach the semi-final

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by Jovica Ilic

Tennis - Thiem broke Nadal's 17-match winning streak and proved once again he is his biggest rival on clay at the moment

After winning all 17 matches he played on clay this season, including titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid, Rafael Nadal has finally suffered the first loss on his beloved surface, losing to the 8th seed Dominic Thiem by 6-4 6-3. Thus, a 7-time Rome champion had to end his campaign in the quarter-final for the 3rd straight year (Wawrinka and Djokovic ousted him in 2015 and 2016) after being blown away by an outstanding power of Thiem's shots. This was their 6th meeting, all on clay, and the second win for the Austrian, who beat Rafa in the semi-final of Buenos Aires last year. The match came too early in the draw, as these two are the best clay courters in the world at the moment, already battling in the final of Barcelona and Madrid this spring. Nadal managed to come as a winner in those matches but he was completely outplayed today, which is a rare scene on the slowest surface, especially when we know in how great form he has played the whole spring. After Madrid, Nadal was thinking to skip Rome, with Roland Garros just around the corner, but he opted to come and try to do his best, which obviously wasn't enough to pass amazing Thiem.  

The match lasted an hour and 51 minutes, which just shows how hard is to beat Nadal in straight sets, even when he is not at his best, and we saw deuces in 10 out of 17 games, including 7 out of final 8 games. Rafa served at 76% but that didn't bring him much, as he lost 46% of the points in his games, facing 8 break points and losing serve 4 times. On the other hand, Dominic fends off 6 out of 7 break points, prevailing in the crucial moments unlike in Barcelona and Madrid, not letting Nadal climb back on the scoreboard. Unlike in their previous two matches, the Austrian was there to fight until the last point, despite having to play a really tough match versus Sam Querrey last night, when he saved 3 match points to even set the meeting with Rafa. Dominic was the much stronger player on the court, ripping bullets from both wings and keeping Nadal far behind the baseline and out of balance. His serves were stronger, so as the groundstrokes and he absolutely dismantled Spaniard in the longer rallies, another feat that is among the hardest in tennis for the last 12 years or so. 

Dominic kicked off the match at full throttle, breaking Nadal twice to open up a huge 5-1 gap against the player who lost just 2 sets in the last 17 matches. Everything worked great for the Austrian, he was hitting the ball with great depth and pace, leaving Spaniard with no answer and pushing him far away from the baseline. Nadal made a good hold in game 7 and he pulled one break back in the game that followed, converting his 4th break point to reduce the deficit to 5-3. Thiem sealed the opener in game 10 when Nadal missed an easy backhand, moving 6-4 in front after 50 minutes of great tennis. Rafa saved two break points in the 5th game of the second set to remain in contention, but it was clear that he wasn't comfortable on the court and that everything was on Thiem's racquet.

The last 4 games went to deuces and it was young Austrian who emerged as a winner in all of them, taking the set 6-3 to score one of his biggest wins in a career so far. Spaniard had a game point for a 4-3 lead but he failed to convert it, and Thiem punished him with a break, ripping two winners that put him in the driving position before a final couple of games. Nevertheless, he had to save 3 break points in the next game and he did that after all, cementing the break and creating a 5-3 lead, leaving Nadal to serve to stay in the match. Rafa couldn't hold the pressure, sending a forehand long to end the encounter on the losing side, as Dominic Thiem became only the 7th player who beat him twice in the ATP matches on clay!

Quarter-final results: 

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