Ever since the draw came out in Monte Carlo 2018, the entire tennis world expected the quarter-final clash between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, two of the finest clay courters on the Tour at that moment. Nadal reached the last eight with solid wins over Aljaz Bedene and Karen Khachanov, while Thiem had to survive a battle against Novak Djokovic on the previous day that lasted for two and a half hours, with nothing left in the tank for Nadal clash.
It was the eighth meeting between the Spaniard and the Austrian, all on clay, and the ten-time champion Nadal needed just 68 minutes to topple Dominic 6-0, 6-2 and advance into the 13th Monte Carlo semi-final in 15 appearances!
Thiem was the only player who defeated Rafa on clay in 2017, ousting him in the Rome quarter-final. Nadal restored the order in the Roland Garros semi-final a few weeks later, dropping just seven games and continuing in the same style in Monte Carlo next spring, giving away two games in the last three sets he played against the Austrian!
Tired, slow and unsettled, Thiem served at 41%, and his service games turned into a nightmare for him, losing almost 60% of the points and facing 12 break chances to feel the constant pressure. On the other hand, Rafa sailed through his service games, dropping six points behind the initial shot and allowing Thiem to reach just one deuce and no break points.
Nadal was in his full glory from the baseline, dictating the pace with in-depth and accurate groundstrokes that dismantled Dominic completely, leaving him with no chances for a more favorable result. In that 2017 Rome match, the Austrian was very efficient on both the return and in the crucial points, with nothing of that working his way here in Monte Carlo, as he struggled to find an open space and made almost 40 errors overall.
Nadal's groundstrokes worked like a charm, spraying just ten mistakes in total and standing as the dominant figure in both the shortest and especially in the longer rallies, where Thiem had nothing to confront with and make the match a bit more interesting.
Rafael Nadal destroyed tired Dominic Thiem in Monte Carlo 2018.
Rafa was never out of the comfort zone outside eight forced errors, playing almost an error-free game and keeping a high level throughout the match to give his rival not even a glimpse of hope for a comeback.
As we already said, the defending champion served at 71% and was untroubled on both the first and second serve, maintaining the pressure on the other side of the net and hitting with more risk in the return games to gain the advantage.
Outside the service winners, Dominic failed to do much behind his initial shot, incapable of finding the zone with his first groundstroke and reducing the chances of winning the point with every extra shot he had to play.
His strokes lacked both power and accuracy, and they couldn't harm such a strong rival on the other side of the court. They had 11 service winners each, and Rafa fired ten winners from the field in comparison to Dominic's six, none from his backhand.
Five of those Nadal's direct points from the court came in the opening two games, but there was no need to pursue them in the rest of the clash, crumbling Thiem with a sheer depth of his shots and counting rival's errors.
The most striking difference between Rafa and Dominic emerged on the surface when we check the number of unforced errors, with Nadal's two and Thiem's 18, as the Austrian couldn't control his backhand like he usually does.
Rafa did make eight forced errors, seven from his backhand wing, but Dominic counted to 14, powerless against Nadal's crosscourt missiles that would open the court for him and give the initiative in the rallies. Also, Thiem sprayed five double faults in comparison to only one from Nadal and had 17 winners and 37 errors, a bit too much if he wanted to stand a chance against the king of clay.
On the other hand, Rafa tamed his shots perfectly, firing 21 winners with just 11 errors and staying in front all the time to race into the semis. The Spaniard had the edge in the shortest points up to four strokes (31-22) and made the real contrast in the rallies that had reached the five-stroke mark, taking 27 out of 33!