Brisbane Bravado: Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem Write Chapter No. 16

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem will battle for the first time in over three years in Brisbane

by Jovica Ilic
Brisbane Bravado: Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem Write Chapter No. 16
© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal will play his first singles match in almost a year in the Brisbane first round. Nadal will refresh his rivalry with Dominic Thiem, with two great rivals battling for the first time since the 2020 ATP Finals. Nadal leads Thiem 9-6, with the Austrian beating the king of clay four times on the slowest surface and two more times on hard in 2020.

Their first ten duels came on clay, with Nadal losing three times but scoring three wins at Roland Garros without losing a set, including the 2018 final. A couple of months later, two rivals met in the US Open quarter-final and produced a thriller.

Rafa prevailed 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7, 7-6 after four hours and 49 minutes, remaining on the title course. They fought in Barcelona the following spring, and Thiem became a rare player with four clay wins over Nadal. Dominic overpowered Rafa 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and four minutes.

The Spaniard did not play at his best, and the Austrian took full advantage of that. Rafa created his first break point in the encounter's last game.

Rafael Nadal, Brisbane 2024© Bradley Kanaris / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

He failed to break Dominic while losing serve two times, enough to push his opponent over the top.

Two rivals met in the Roland Garros final a few weeks later, and Nadal earned a 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory in three hours and one minute, lifting his 18th Major title. Rafa stole 45% of the return points and turned them into seven breaks from 13 opportunities.

The Spaniard got broken two times, keeping the pressure on the other side and breaking the Austrian's resistance in sets three and four. Rafa fired 38 winners and 31 unforced errors, losing the second set but storming over Dominic in the third and fourth.

Their next clash came at the 2020 Australian Open, and they made it memorable. Thiem ousted Nadal 7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 after four hours and ten minutes of a titanic battle. Dominic played aggressive tennis and grabbed the pivotal points of the opening two sets for a massive advantage.

Nadal bounced back in the third set before losing another tight battle in the fourth, ending his campaign in the quarter-final.

Rafael Nadal will make his return versus Dominic Thiem.

The Spaniard grabbed four breaks and lost serve three times.

However, it was enough only for a set after dropping the crucial points. Thiem denied a set point at 3-5 in the opener, climbing back and taking seven of the last eight points in the tie break for an early advantage after 68 minutes.

Like in the opener, Rafa squandered a break advantage in the second set, which would cost him dearly. The veteran saved a set point in the 12th game before losing the tie break 7-4 after the rival's forehand winner, finding himself two sets to love behind.

With no room for errors, Nadal dropped four points behind the initial shot in the third set, keeping the pressure on the other side. Rafa fired a forehand winner in the ninth game for 5-4 and grabbed a break a few minutes later, stealing the set and prolonging the action after nearly three hours.

Nadal squandered three break chances early in the fourth set before falling 3-1 behind. Dominic opened a 5-3 gap, forcing Rafa to serve to stay in the match.

Rafael Nadal, Brisbane 2024© Chris Hyde / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

The veteran endured the pressure, holding in game nine and breaking his opponent in the next one to lock the result at 5-5 and prolong his chances.

Thiem forged a 5-2 advantage and earned two match points with a service winner. Nadal denied them and climbed back to 6-6. Dominic created the third match point after a forehand winner following a lucky net cord and sealed the deal after Rafa's forehand mistake.

Nadal and Thiem played their 15th and most recent duel at the 2020 ATP Finals. The Austrian prevailed over the Spaniard 7-6, 7-6 after two hours and 25 minutes, earning his sixth victory over a great rival. Dominic extended his great run over Rafa in the tie breaks, winning all five in 2020!

They stayed neck and neck from start to finish, exchanging breaks in the middle of the second set and staying close to each other while maintaining a high level of tennis. The opening set saw no breaks, and Nadal had a chance in the tie break.

The Spaniard led 5-2 and wasted set points at 6-5 and 7-6. Thiem created his first set point with a service winner and seized it with a forehand crosscourt winner, wrapping up the opener after 72 minutes. Dominic denied a break point in the second set's first game before losing serve at 3-3 after Rafa's forehand down the line winner.

Thiem stayed focused and pulled the break back in game eight with a forehand winner, locking the result at 4-4 and extending the drama. Rafa served to stay in the match in game ten and faced three match points! Nadal stayed focused and denied them, taking five points in a row and holding with a backhand down the line winner.

They introduced the second tie break, and Rafa had to win it to stay alive. However, the Austrian moved 4-3 in front with a powerful backhand winner and hit another strong shot from his left wing for 5-3. Thiem created three match points with a forehand winner and seized the first when Nadal sprayed a backhand error, celebrating his sixth victory over a legendary rival.

Rafael Nadal Dominic Thiem