Dominic Thiem

Rafael Nadal, Now Proven To Be Human On Clay, Seeks Redemption In Rome

So Rafael Nadal is human on clay!

One week after the “King of Clay” showed vulnerability in his quarterfinal loss to Dominic Thiem at the Madrid Open, Nadal will look to regain his winning ways in Rome at the Italian Championships. Nadal has won in Rome seven times, less than his 11 titles each in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and his 10 titles at Roland Garros, but, by any other normal professional standards, is amazing.

Against Thiem in Madrid, Nadal had his 21-match and 50-set clay-court winning streaks come to an end. To boot, he fell from the top ranking by not winning the title, surrendering the top spot to Roger Federer. However, Nadal is still 14-1 in matches and 30-2 in sets on clay this year. He will return the No. 1 ranking on 21 May if he captures his the title at the Foro Italico. While Nadal has won a record seven times in Rome, he has not won there since 2013. He lost in the quarterfinals in 2015, 2016 and 2017 after falling to Djokovic in the 2014 final. Rome is the only clay-court event where Nadal has made four consecutive appearances without a title.

Nadal faces the strongest ATP World Tour field of the season with 18 of the Top 20 players vying for the title. Four-time champion Novak Djokovic and defending champion Alexander Zverev are former champs in the field. Djokovic continues to struggle this year and is only 6-6 in 2018 and seeking his first quarterfinal of the season as he continues his comeback from a right elbow injury. The former world No. 1 is responsible for 19% of Nadal’s losses on clay, earning three of seven clay-court victories over his Spanish rival in Rome.

Zverev, the world No. 3, won ATP Masters 1000 titles last year in Rome and Montreal and is coming in on a high after defeating Thiem in the final of Madrid. Zverev’s serve, in particular, was impressive in Madrid, not losing serve and barely losing points on his deliveries. If he can keep up that success in Rome – and avoid mental and physical fatigue – he will be a tough out.

Thiem beat Nadal in the quarterfinals of Rome last year and combined with his win over Nadal last week in Madrid – and two semifinal showings at the French Open – make him and Zverev the next two betting favorites in Rome – and in Paris – other than Nadal. With three wins over Nadal on clay in his career, Thiem is one of three men with three wins over Nadal on clay, joining Djokovic (7) and Gaston Gaudio (3).

World No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro is 22-5 in 2018, highlighted by his first ATP Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells, where he saved three championship points to defeat Federer. Despite his high credentials and South American upbringing on the clay in Argentina, del Potro has not reached a semifinal on a clay court since Madrid in 2012. Kevin Anderson, the world No. 8, and John Isner, the world No. 9, are at career-high rankings following impressive starts to their seasons. The 6-foot-8 Anderson, the 2017 US Open runner-up, reached his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal last week in Madrid after winning his fourth ATP title in New York. The 6-foot-10 Isner defeated del Potro and Zverev to capture his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Miami.

High Stakes For Thiem, Goffin at Roland Garros

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

Dominic Thiem of Austria and David Goffin both reached their first major quarterfinal and have even higher stakes to play for when they meet up on Thursday.

In Wednesday’s fourth round action, Thiem dispatched Marcel Granollers in four sets, 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-4, while Goffin upended Ernests Gulbis, also in four sets, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. Both matches were completions of matches that had begun on Tuesday.

Goffin, 25-years old, and Thiem, 22-years old, will now play with the winner reaching their first semifinal in a major, as well as reaching the Top 10 of the ATP World Tour rankings for the first time in their career.

Thiem, the No. 13 seed, resumed his match at the very beginning of the third set, so he was essentially playing a best-of-three set match with Granollers. Three sets were not needed, though, as Thiem, who has been in impressive form in 2016, was able to continue his great run of play.

With three clay court titles already in his pocket, as well as having the most wins of any player on the ATP World Tour this year, Thiem raced through his first set hitting winner after winner. The rain may have been a blessing in disguise for him, though, as it slowed down the roll of Granollers who was able to take advantage of an increased error count in the second set from Thiem and rattle off the set in a tiebreak to make things more interesting.

When play resumed on Wednesday, the Austrian raced out to win the third set in less than half an hour before going on to break late in the fourth set, accentuating the win with a hold at love to close out the match.

While Thiem has played well in recent months, even he is slightly surprised with the success that he has been able to have.

“Two years ago I was here with Gulbis and he played semifinals, and back then I couldn’t really imagine that I’d go this far myself one day…it feels really good,” said Thiem.

In Goffin’s fourth round match with Gulbis, who reached the French Open semifinals in 2014 but is now ranked No. 80 in the world, the Latvian was playing with house money to begin with, as he was only able to advance to the fourth round when his third round opponent, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, retired with an injury while leading in the first set.

That “nothing to lose” mentality helped the Gulbis in the early stages as he was able to spray winners all over the court and play confidently, as he always does in these big stages.

Goffin, though, had confidence in this matchup as he had won their two previous encounters, and used that to start his comeback journey when play resumed on Wednesday.

The winners turned into errors for Gulbis allowing Goffin to capitalize on his opportunity to take the third set before easily closing out the match in the fourth, thanks, in part to a double fault from Gulbis on match point.

“It’s not easy to wait for three days for your match…the stress level if pretty high for everybody. So it takes a lot of energy in the end. I think he dealt with it better,” said Gulbis of how Goffin was able to close out the match.

Goffin and Thiem will now meet up for the eighth time in their careers, with the Belgian currently holding a 5-2 record. That record on clay courts is an even 1-1, while Goffin won the only match they played in a major, beating Thiem in four sets at the Australian Open this year.

“We practice a lot together and hang around a little bit outside the court. I think it’s going to be a very nice match,” said Thiem of his relationship with Goffin.

“That’s going to be a tough match,” said Goffin. “He can play all types of shots from the baseline…He serves really well…Physically he can play many tournaments and the big matches. He has everything it takes to play well on clay, and mentally, I have the impression he feels good.”

Taylor Fritz, Dominic Thiem Have Historic Weeks – Passing Shots with Kevin Craig

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

  • Taylor Fritz’s run to the final in Memphis included numerous impressive stats. Fritz became the youngest American to make an ATP semifinal since Michael Chang made the Wembley semifinals in 1989. Fritz also joined an exclusive list of Americans who had reached a final while 18 years old, including Andy Roddick, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Chang. Fritz also became the first 18 year old overall to reach an ATP final since Kei Nishikori, who beat Fritz in the final in Memphis, made the final in Delray Beach in 2008.
  • Dominic Thiem’s win over Rafael Nadal in Buenos Aires saw Thiem become only the third player to save match points in a win over Nadal on clay. The previous two were Nicolas Lapentti and David Ferrer.
  • The loss to Thiem moves Nadal’s record against Top 50 players in 2016 to 0-3, while his record against players outside the Top 50 is 6-0.
  • Only six active players on the WTA have been able to reach a Top 10 ranking at a younger age than Belinda Bencic. Those six are Martina Hingis, Nicole Vaidisova, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki, with Vaidisova being the only one of that failed to reach a No. 1 world ranking. Bencic clinched a spot in the Top 10 this week with her run to the final in St. Petersburg.
  • Nishikori’s win in Memphis made it the fourth straight year that he has won the event. Nishikori joins Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Nadal as the only other active players with four-peats on the ATP World Tour.
  • During his title run in Rotterdam, Martin Klizan became the first player on the ATP to save match points in multiple matches en route to the final since Rajeev Ram did so in Newport in July of 2015.
  • Marco Cecchinato’s struggles on the ATP World Tour continue as he has now lost 11 straight tour level matches to start his career. This week in Buenos Aires, he was downed by Juan Monaco in straight sets.