World Number One Rafael Nadal’s level of dominance on clay over the past 13 years cannot be overstated.
He is 85-2 at Roland Garros, with 10 titles and a 21-0 combined record in semifinals and finals. Rafa owns 56 career titles on clay, with only eight losses in clay court finals. It’s been over three years since he lost a final on clay. Earlier this year, he won his eleventh title at two different clay court events: in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He is now 414-36 lifetime on clay, an all-time best 92% winning percentage after 450 career matches on the surface. Nadal needs to win this match to hold onto his number one ranking. Rafa comes into this final having only dropped one set in the tournament, and with only one loss on clay this year. That loss, as well as his only clay court loss last year, came at the hands of Dominic Thiem. The Austrian also beat Nadal on clay in Buenos Aires on 2016, though Nadal has six career clay victories against Thiem. They’ve actually never faced each other on any other surface.
For Thiem, this is his first career major final, on the heels of two consecutive semifinal appearances at Roland Garros. This is the only Grand Slam event where he’s advanced passed the fourth round. Following his heartbreaking five-set loss to Juan Martin Del Potro in the fourth round of last year’s US Open, Dominic went just 3-6 on the ATP tour through the end of 2017. Thiem stalled again in the fourth round at the next major, getting upset by 97th-ranked Tennys Sandgren in another five-setter. But as usual his results picked up on the clay, with his title in Buenos Aires being his first in one year’s time. Eight of Thiem’s ten career titles have come on clay, with his most recent triumph coming the week prior to the French Open in Lyon. He’s dropped three sets during this fortnight, so he’s not advanced to this stage as cleanly as Nada.l Despite this being his fifth straight week of play, and already his 12th tournament of the year, he should still be fresh following two straight-set victories in the quarters and semis. He also had two days off between those rounds, whereas Nadal played on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday due to rain delaying the conclusion of his quarterfinal.
So does Thiem have a chance? A small one, yes. He’ll take confidence from his three career victories over Nadal on clay, though none of those were best-of-five. It will be critical to grab an early lead, as Nadal is a great frontrunner, especially on this surface. Rafa may be vulnerable at the beginning of the match: he’s gotten off to slow starts in both of his last two rounds. Thiem will need to hit big without completely going for broke, and will need a lot of winners. Both men will be standing near the front row behind them when receiving serve, so it will be crucial for both to quickly establish court positioning near or within the baseline early in the point, as Paul Annacone outlined this week on Tennis Channel in the US. But Thiem will have many factors working against him, such as his one-handed backhand, Nadal’s experience edge, and Nadal’s current momentum. And remember: Rafa has never lost at this stage of the French Open. I don’t see that changing on Sunday. While I hope Thiem gives us a competitive final, an outcome other than an historic eleventh crown for the king of clay would be shocking.
Route to the final
R1 d. (LL) Simone Bolelli 64 63 76(9)
R2 d. Guido Pella 62 61 61
R3 d. No. 27 Richard Gasquet 63 62 62
R4 d. Maximilian Marterer 63 62 76(4)
QF d. No. 11 Diego Schwartzman 46 63 62 62
SF d. No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro 64 61 62
Total time on the court – 15:24
R1 d. (Q) Ilya Ivashka 62 64 61
R2 d. Stefanos Tsitsipas 62 26 64 64
R3 d. Matteo Barrettini 63 67(5) 63 62
R4 d. No. 19 Kei Nishikori 62 60 57 64
QF d. No. 2 Alexander Zverev 64 62 61
SF d. Marco Cecchinato 75 76(10) 61
total time on the court – 13:36
Dominic Thiem Ousts Rafael Nadal For Maiden Australian Open Semi-Final
Dominic Thiem edged out world number one Rafael Nadal in four sets to reach his first Australian Open semi-final.
Dominic Thiem edged out Rafael Nadal 7-6(3) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(6) to reach the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time.
In a stunning performance, Thiem eventually held his nerve to win all three tiebreaks in the match and secure a place in the last four.
The result means Nadal will lose his world number one if Novak Djokovic can win an eighth Australian Open title in Melbourne.
As for the Austrian, he will meet Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals on Friday.
In a rematch of the Roland Garros final, it was Thiem who had the more aggressive start to the match as he was red-lining the ball across the court and created break point opportunities.
Nadal’s clutch serving remained crucial though to survive the Austrian’s early surge. This was important as Nadal would soon show why he has won 20 grand slam titles as he played his best tennis when it mattered.
A good mix of pace and variety troubled Thiem as the Spaniard earned the first break of the match for a 5-3 lead in the opening set.
Despite the early setback, the Austrian continued to raise his level especially on the backhand side, producing a lot of winners. A forehand return winner sealed the break back immediately on his third opportunity.
Both men would continue to cancel each other out with insane cross-court angles as the opening set went to a tiebreak.
Dominating from the baseline, the 5th seed took control and wrapped up the opening set 7-6(3) in 68 gruelling minutes.
In the second set, Nadal continued to be the aggressor especially on the forehand as he realised how crucial the set was going to be.
An increased amount in unforced errors for Thiem proved costly as the world number one opened up a 4-2 lead in the second set.
But once again, Thiem struck back as a loose and nervy game from the Spaniard saw the Austrian level up at 4-4 in a tense point in the match.
Another tiebreak loomed as Thiem failed to take his chances after Nadal’s uncharacteristic unforced errors. However he didn’t make the same mistakes in the tiebreak as a net cord-forehand combination secured three consecutive points and a two set lead.
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) January 29, 2020
A two set advantage was a comfortable lead for Thiem but it doesn’t guarantee victory especially against one of the best competitors tennis has ever seen.
A cleaner set was produced from Nadal as he dug in deep to hold his service games and create some opportunities to break especially off the forehand.
Eventually those opportunities came as a tentative Thiem service game saw Nadal create two set points. A netted baseline shot from the world number 5 saw the Spaniard grab the third set as he roared in delight to the packed Rod Laver Arena crowd.
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) January 29, 2020
The momentum was now firmly with Nadal, who had better intensity as the forehand was firing against Thiem’s defensive skills.
However the Austrian’s mental strength has improved and he managed to overcome the Nadal storm by saving two break points as well as gaining the immediate break advantage.
There was trouble for the world number one now as Thiem’s serve was improving as he continued to outsmart and outpower the Spaniard.
Threats of a double break were quickly snuffed out by the 2009 champion and that would soon cost Thiem as he couldn’t serve out the match. The world number one took advantage of the Austrian’s nerves to break for 5-5.
Both men held their nerve afterwards to force a fourth set tiebreak, the third of the day. Yet again it would be Thiem who would win the tie-break as he booked his place in a maiden Australian Open semi-final.
After the match, Thiem declared his delight at one of the biggest victories of his career, “All the match was on a very good level, we both were in great form, that’s what can happen with two players in that form,” the Austrian said in his post-match interview.
“I felt I was lucky in the right situations. It’s necessary as he’s one of the greatest of all times, one of the biggest legends in this sport, so you need a little luck to beat him.”
It was a stunning performance which now sees him meet good friend Alexander Zverev for a place in the final. As for Nadal his search for a second Australian Open title continues and could still lose his world number one ranking should Novak Djokovic win his eighth title in Melbourne.
Australian Open Day 10 Preview: The Quarter-Finals Conclude
Wednesday is highlighted by a rematch of the French Open final from the last two years.
By Matthew Marolf
Rafael Nadal is one win away from securing his world No.1 ranking, though I’m sure he’s much more concerned with being three wins away from winning his record-tying 20th Major title. But standing in his way today is an opponent who has beaten him many times before. The other men’s quarter-final features the 2014 champion and a Next Gen standout who has excelled on the ATP tour, but is yet to make a deep run at a Major. On the women’s side, we have a pair of two-time Major champions against two women looking to reach their first Slam semi-final.
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Dominic Thiem (5)
This is a marquee quarterfinal between two top five seeds. Nadal leads their head-to-head 9-4, with all but one of those matches taking place on clay. Their only hard court meeting was certainly a memorable one. In the 2018 US Open quarterfinals, they played for almost five hours, and past 2:00am, in a match decided by a fifth-set tiebreak. Thiem should take a lot of positives from that encounter despite the loss, and he’s only improved his hard court game since that time.
Dominic has won four hard court titles in the past 16 months, including the Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells. And just two months ago, he reached the championship match at the ATP Finals, with wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. This is his first time advancing to the quarters in Australia, but this run is not surprising based on his recent hard court resume. The slower courts in Melbourne this year work to Dominic’s favour, though Rafa will like that temperatures are forecast to rise over the next few days. But with this being a night match, it’ll get rather cool as this match goes on. Nadal has looked good through four rounds here, and passed a stern test supplied by Nick Kyrgios two days ago. However, I think this may be Thiem’s time to shine. He was oh-so-close to beating Nadal in their last hard court match, and he’s a much-improved player since hiring Nicolas Massu as his coach. In what will surely be a highly-competitive affair, I’m tipping Thiem to pull off the upset.
Sascha Zverev (7) vs. Stan Wawrinka (15)
Can this be true? Zverev, who has historically become entangled in long matches during the first week of Majors, has won four rounds here without dropping a set. It’s even more startling when you consider he went 0-3 at the ATP Cup to start the year, where he had terrible troubles with his serve. In his post-match interview on Monday, he spoke of how finding peace in his personal life has lead to good results on court. The 22-year-old has reached his third Slam quarterfinal, and his first off clay. He’ll certainly be the fresher player today, as Stan not only battled an illness last week, but has already played two five-setters.
That includes his comeback victory over Daniil Medvedev two days ago. And Zverev is 2-0 against Wawrinka, with both victories coming on hard courts. But this is a case where experience at this stage of a Major will be crucial, and Stan has plenty of that. This is his fifth quarter-final in Melbourne, and his 18th at all four Majors. Wawrinka has proven himself to be a big-match player, and excels in the best-of-five format. As improved as Zverev’s serve has been this fortnight, Wawrinka remains the bolder and more aggressive player, which is usually critical in matches like this. With that in mind, I like Stan’s chances to return to the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time in three years.
Simona Halep (4) vs. Anett Kontaveit (30)
The 24-year-old Kontaveit has been a rising WTA star for a few years now, but she appears ready for her big breakthrough. This run has literally come out of nowhere, as an illness forced her to withdraw from the US Open and miss the rest of the 2019 season. Her coach, Nigel Sears, told the media that she was hospitalized for a week and had to undergo surgery. This resulted in a substantial weight loss, and a lack of activity for three or four months. But here she is into her first Major quarter-final, thanks to some impressive play. She dropped just one game to the sixth seed, Belinda Bencic, and came back from a set down to claim a tight match over a talented teenager, Iga Swiatek.
But today Kontaveit runs into an in-form Halep, who has reunited with Darren Cahill and is yet to drop a set at this event. These two players have similar, all-around games, though Halep is a bit more consistent, and a bit more skilled defensively. And Simona is 2-0 against Anett, having comfortably won the four sets they’ve played. Halep should be favoured to reach her second semi-final in Melbourne.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (30) vs. Garbine Muguruza
Speaking of Roland Garros and Wimbledon champions in good form, Garbine Muguruza is back. She seems to be rejuvenated with Conchita Martinez back as her coach. When her former coach, Sam Sumyk, missed Wimbledon a few years ago to undergo a medical procedure, Conchita filled in, and coached Muguruza to the title. Garbine split with Sumyk during the offseason, and is playing her best tennis in a few years with Martinez as a full-time coach.
But guess who Sumyk coaches now? That would be Pavlyuchenkova. This union has also paid immediate dividends, though the 28-year-old Russian has been playing great tennis since the fall. Pavlyuchenkova outplayed a game Angelique Kerber on Monday, extending her record in the fourth round of Majors to 6-1. The problem is she’s 0-5 in Slam quarter-finals. And she’s 1-4 against Muguruza, with the only win coming via a Garbine retirement. Muguruza just has a bit more game than Pavlyuchenkova, and she’s been on fire since overcoming an illness last week. Garbine took out two top 10 seeds in the last two rounds, via scores of 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, and 6-3. While Sumyk will certainly have some sage advance for how to play against Muguruza, I don’t see it being enough considering Garbine’s current level.
(VIDEO) Roger Federer Pulls Off Houdini Act To Set 50th Djokovic Meeting
Ubitennis is joined by Rene Stauffer to discuss Roger Federer’s miraculous win over Tennys Sandgren at the Australian Open.
It was another dramatic day at the Australian Open as Roger Federer pulled off a miraculous comeback to edge out Tennys Sandgren 6-3 2-6 2-6 7-6(8) 6-3 to reach the Australian Open semi-finals. The Swiss saved 7 match points as he survived the three and a half hour clash to set up a 50th meeting with Novak Djokovic. Below Ubaldo Scanagatta and Rene Stauffer discuss Federer’s miraculous win against Sandgren.
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(VIDEO) Season’s Greetings From Ubitennis
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