The blockbuster matches have been coming fast and furious at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters this week and there’s a huge one lined up for quarterfinal Friday: Rafael Nadal against Dominic Thiem.
Here are 10 things to know about this battle between two of the best clay-court players in the business.
Thiem has spent almost twice as much time on court as Nadal this week. Thiem needed 2:40 to come back from match point down and beat Andrey Rublev in his opening match, 5-7, 7-5, 7-5, and 2:29 to beat Novak Djokovic in the round of 16, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3, for a total of 5:09 on court this week.
Nadal has spent a total of 2:37 on court so far this week—he needed just 1:18 to breeze past Aljaz Bedene in his opening match, 6-1, 6-3, then 1:19 to beat Karen Khachanov in the round of 16, 6-3, 6-2.
Thiem has won 17 of his last 19 matches on clay. Since the start of last year’s French Open, he’s 17-2 on this surface, the only two losses coming to Nadal in the semifinals in Paris last year and to another Spanish lefty—Fernando Verdasco—in the quarterfinals of Rio de Janeiro earlier this year.
Nadal’s won 30 of his last 31 matches on clay. The world No. 1’s only loss on clay in almost two years came at the hands of none other than Thiem—a 6-4, 6-3 loss in the quarters of Rome last year.
Nadal has also won his last 11 matches—and amazingly his last 30 sets—on this surface.
Nadal has now reached the quarterfinals or better in Monte Carlo for 14 years in a row. That’s every single year since 2005—and his record in Monte Carlo quarterfinals is an almost-perfect 12-1, the only loss he’s suffered in this round coming in 2014 to countryman David Ferrer, 7-6 (1), 6-4.
Meanwhile, Thiem is through to the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo for the first time in his career.
Thiem has beaten a world No. 1 before. And it was on red clay, too—Thiem outslugged then-No. 1 Andy Murray in the semifinals of Barcelona a year ago, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, for the biggest win of his career.
This will be Nadal’s 100th career match against a Top 10 player on clay. He’s 82-17 in 99 career matches against Top 10 players on this surface—can the No. 7-ranked Thiem beat the odds Friday?
Nadal leads Thiem in their head-to-head, 5-2. All seven of their previous meetings have come on clay. Thiem’s two wins came in the semifinals of Buenos Aires in 2016 and the quarterfinals of Rome in 2017. Nadal won their most recent meeting in the 2017 French Open semifinals, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.
Nadal isn’t taking Thiem lightly at all. The 10-time Monte Carlo champion was asked about his pending clash with Thiem on Thursday: “It’s going to be a big, big match,” he said. “I need to play my best. I need to be 100% ready for it. If I don’t play my best it’s going to be so difficult to have success.
“I can’t let him play from easy positions. He produces shots with incredible power, and especially if he’s in a good position on the court it’s going to be so difficult to stop him, so I have to avoid it.”
Thiem is trying to become the first man to pull off the Nadal-Djokovic double on clay. Nine men have beaten both Nadal and Djokovic at the same tournament, but they all did it at hard-court events (David Nalbandian, Ferrer, Andy Roddick, Nikolay Davydenko, Robin Soderling, Ivan Ljubicic, Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro). Nobody has ever done it on clay before.
If Thiem beats Nadal on Friday, Federer will return to No. 1 on Monday. Nadal needs to win this title to hang onto No. 1, so if he loses at any point this week, Roger Federer will regain the top spot.
ATP Monte Carlo Masters (4/15-4/22)
-Tennis Channel Plus has multi-court coverage of the 2018 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters beginning Sunday April 16 at 7:00 AM ET, first to last ball!