Rafael Nadal will set his sights on winning a 10th French Open title, after a day of “fishing or golf”, following his shock defeat to Dominic Thiem in the Rome Masters quarter-finals yesterday. Nadal, a former seven-time champion in the Italian capital, had dominated the Austrian to win the Madrid Masters final last week.
But the Spanish fourth seed had no answer to the eighth seed’s aggressive approach and impressive range of shots on a shocked centre court as Thiem raced to a 6-4, 6-3 victory in 1 hout 51 minutes, ending Nadal’s 17-match winning run.
Thiem will now meet the winner of the quarter-final clash between four-time winner Novak Djokovic, seeded second, and unseeded Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro. Nadal, meanwhile, said he intends to have a free weekend before ramping up his preparations for Roland Garros from Monday.
“Tomorrow I’ll be in Mallorca fishing or playing golf, or another thing. I’m going to rest a little bit, I think I deserve it,” said Nadal. “Then from Monday and Tuesday I will start to prepare for Roland Garros. It’s an important event for me. If you do things well, you have more chances in Roland Garros. I hope to play my best tennis in Roland Garros.”
Nadal, given a first round bye, played only three games of his second round match with Nicolas Almagro before his unseeded compatriot retired injured on Wednesday. The 30-year-old made amends for his comparative lack of playing time with a 6-3, 6-4 win over American Jack Sock on Thursday.
But from the outset against Thiem, Nadal looked in trouble. The Austrian’s serve, precision and movement were near flawless and soon had Nadal hitting shots wide of the mark. As the centre court crowd steadily got behind the 23-year-old upstart, Nadal’s confidence waned.
Before the two-hour mark, Thiem avenged his Madrid Masters defeat, breaking Nadal in their final game when the Spaniard hit a wayward return. “I didn’t play very well,” added Nadal. “I want to congratulate him because he was better than me this afternoon. Great, in all aspects. He played long, he played very aggressive, hitting the ball very strong with high intensity.
“In general I was not able to push him back. He got a lot of points, maximum, more times than me. And that’s the key of this game. It’s obvious I didn’t play my best match.” Nadal suggested the intensity of a clay court season that has seen him play his best tennis on the surface for the past two years had been to blame. “I’ve been playing a lot. It’s difficult, every day. Madrid then Rome back-to-back, after Barcelona. It’s not easy playing every day for the last four weeks.”
Rising German star Alexander Zverev earlier reached the semi-final with a 7-6(4), 6-1 defeat of world number six Milos Raonic. Zverev, 20, will face John Isner for a place in the final after the American beat Croatian Marin Cilic 7-6(3), 2-6 7-6(2).
“It’s another stepping stone in my career,” Zverev said. “I feel like I have played very well today. I returned very well. So I’m happy to be in the semis and playing John tomorrow, who I know very well from our Saddlebrook (Florida) days. It’s going to be a great match.”
Halep to meet Bertens in semis
In the women’s, Romanian sixth seed Simona Halep and Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens will face off in the semi-finals after coming through their respective quarter-final matches.
Halep surged into the last four for the third time after a 6-2, 6-4 win over Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit. Halep, who reached the French Open final in 2014, now meets Bertens after the 15th seed, ranked 20th in the world, ousted Australian qualifier Daria Gavrilova 6-3, 6-3. American Venus Williams, seeded ninth, faces Spanish third seed Garbine Muguruza for a place in the last four, while Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, seeded eighth, faces Czech second seed Karolina Pliskova.
Men: Dominic Thiem (AUT x8) bt Rafael Nadal (ESP x4) 6-4, 6-3; Alexander Zverev (GER x16) bt Milos Raonic (CAN x5) 7-6 (7/4), 6-1; John Isner (USA) bt Marin Cilic (CRO x6) 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 7-6 (7/2)
Women: Kiki Bertens (NED x15) bt Daria Gavrilova (AUS) 6-3, 6-3; Simona Halep (ROM x 6) bt Anett Kontaveit (EST) 6-2, 6-4
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