Pablo Carreño Busta offered the only blip of diversity in a quarterfinals that was otherwise purely chalk: seeds No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 were all still in play. As nice as it was to see one of those three-name clay courters edge past No. 5 Milos Raonic in five sets and make his way into this rarefied crew, it ultimately it didn’t matter much, because PCB was to be fed to Rafael Nadal.
The 20-seed retired while down 6-2, 2-0, with an abdominal strain that had him taking a medical timeout after the first set, and eventually, howling in pain. A wise move. There is probably not a lot of sense in playing through injury and jeopardizing the future when the present is so futile anyway.
The match was brief, but it did yield maybe the most ferociously lashed routine forehands I’ve seen from Rafa this tournament, the kind of spin that makes you want to watch it at court level just to see how suddenly it plummeted down into the clay.
As for PCB, he conjured one very dope drop shot at a sharp angle, to finish off the rally at 0:40:
Rafa will proceed to the last two rounds of the tournament with remarkably fresh legs. Not only has he not dropped a set, he hasn’t been taken close: excluding the injury-shortened set, his average set has been won at 6-1.69. Nice.
In the semifinal he’ll face his only real test of this whole tournament, in Dominic Thiem, the sole man to beat him on clay this season. Back in Rome, the 23-year-old laid out the blueprint for how this feat might be managed, felling Nadal 6-4, 6-3 with a flurry of haymakers. Now the question is whether Thiem—or the similarly big-hitting Stan Wawrinka, who could see Nadal in the final—can execute that gameplan in a best-of-five, where stamina becomes a much more serious concern.
Do you think we will see that happen? I think we will see this happen, with thinner scalp coverage.