Rafael Nadal’s incomprehensible streak of consecutive sets won on clay has ended at 50. And it was ended by the last person to have scraped a set off him on the surface, a full 51 weeks ago: Dominic Thiem. The upset demanded huge hitting from the world No. 7, who has had a somewhat uninspired week in Madrid, and had yet to defeat a top-10 player this year before today’s 7-5, 6-3 quarterfinal win.
Here’s Thiem lining up trademark backhand for a stinging crosscourt winner:
And here was the brutally fought rally that produced a break of serve, the first indication we might actually have an interesting match on our hands.
And here’s the best point played on clay this season.
With set point on his racket, Thiem lined up a heavy inside-in forehand, only to send it a few inches long. Then came a skittish double-fault, and then he gave the game away, and from there the choke felt like a foregone conclusion, but alas—Thiem broke Rafa again and served out the set, ending the Spaniard’s historic run. In the second set, Thiem found an early break, and cashed out on his second match point.
This may well be only fiercely contested Rafa match of the clay season. Thiem is among the very few human beings who can match (and even surpass) Nadal’s heavy topspin and pace—albeit without the same consistency and precision and point construction—and he seems comfortable enough whaling away at Rafa’s high-bouncing balls from some ten feet behind the baseline. Today he hammered the ball with unusual intelligence and capitalized on a Nadal who looked slightly off his game. The universe’s greatest clay courter just secured a new record, and it will be bookended by losses to Dominic Thiem.