Nadal Fends Off Thiem

Eight-time champion Rafael Nadal dug deep on Thursday against Dominic Thiem at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, reaching the quarter-finals with a 7-5, 6-3 victory that was far from straightforward for the Spaniard.

Thiem had beaten Nadal on clay two months ago in the Buenos Aires semi-finals and once again posed a big threat to the fifth-seeded Spaniard. The 22-year-old Austrian went up an early break, but relinquished it in the sixth game. Thiem was ultimately made to rue missing 15 of 16 break points in the 81-minute first set, which included a 15-minute, 50-second service game for Nadal at 4-4. The Mallorcan then broke Thiem in the 12th game to seal the opener.

Thiem responded well in the second set and again engineered an early break advantage, but Nadal immediately levelled in the fourth game and would break Thiem again in the eighth game before serving out victory in just over two hours.

“I think I played a good match,” said Nadal. “In terms of level of tennis, was great I think. In terms of fighting spirit and attitude and being ready to accept the mistakes, the good points, the tough moments, it was similar to the way that I played in Indian Wells.

“That was a great continuation against a very tough player. I think he played a great match, too. Was a very good victory for me. Very happy for that.

“The best thing is he didn’t play badly on the break points. It was more that I played well on the break points than he played bad.

“So happy for that because that means that I was ready to find and make the right decisions in the most important moments. I was able to fight all the moments. I never give up in all these tough moments that I had in the first set.”

Thiem, a five-time ATP World Tour titlist, drops to a 26-7 match record on the season. He was the form player on tour in February, capturing titles in Buenos Aires and Acapulco and reaching the semi-finals in Rio de Janeiro.

“I think the level was pretty high from both of us. Of course, I had a lot of chances. Probably I should take more than I have,” said Thiem. “But, he was fighting unbelievable all the set. At the end it was of course a big disappointment, the first set.

“It’s very important for me to play exactly these matches. Even though I lost today, it was still a very good experience. I think I can build upon it.”

The 29-year-old Nadal sets a quarter-final clash with 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka, who raced past No. 15 seed Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-2 in 82 minutes. Wawrinka is now 17-4 on the year after saving seven of eight break points in the pair’s sixth meeting.

Afterwards, Wawrinka remarked it was his best match for a long time. “On my side it was an excellent match, a lot better than yesterday,” said the Swiss. “From the start I was very strict with myself. I had to keep my tactics, be patient, attack him whenever I had the opportunity.

“My concentration was very good. This is important against Gilles. From the start I needed to dominate and be very present on the court. I succeeded in doing that.”

Nadal has a 14-3 record against Wawrinka, but it was Wawrinka who won their last clay-court meeting, in the Rome quarter-finals last year. The Swiss captured his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown at the Monte-Carlo Country Club two years ago, beating Roger Federer in the final.

“Stan, he’s always very dangerous opponent and he’s a great player,” said Nadal. “I know when he’s playing well, it’s difficult to stop him because he’s able to hit so hard the ball from every part of the court. He’s able to serve so good, too.

“We’ll see. Will be a tough one. I only can think about myself. I have to continue the same way as today, fighting for every point, playing with my strategy. We’ll see if I am able to play like today or maybe a little bit better.”

Nadal is looking to win his first title of the season this week, and claim a record-equalling 28th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown, which would be his first in almost two years, since lifting the trophy in Madrid 2014.

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