Perhaps the most interesting match of the whole tournament takes place on Thursday, with fifth seed Rafael Nadal taking on 12th seed Dominic Thiem in an extremely intriguing battle at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.
So far on clay
Coming into Monte Carlo, Nadal had played in two clay court events; the Argentina Open and the Rio Open back in February. Nadal picked up wins in both tournaments, though showed he is not as strong as he was in the past by losing the semifinals of both tournaments; in Buenos Aires he lost to Thiem, despite holding match points, and in Rio, he lost to eventual champion Pablo Cuevas in another tight clash. These were not good losses for a man known as the 'King of Clay,' though he impressed here in his opening match against Aljaz Bedene, losing just six games, and will be fairly happy with his current form.
Thiem is clearly comfortable on clay, winning four of his five career titles on the surface, including in Buenos Aires this year where, as previously mentioned, beat Nadal before beating Nicolas Almagro in three sets in the final. He, like Nadal, also lost in the semifinals in Rio de Janeiro the following weak, suffering a fatigued loss to Guido Pella. Thiem hasn’t always been at his best this week, coming from a set down to beat both Jan-Lennard Struff and Taro Daniel, though did improve by the end of both matches. However, he has reportedly been struggling with illness and a minor injury, and will need to be better for this clash.
Nadal’s performance on Wednesday wasn’t perfect but was certainly encouraging, and he should look to build on that for this tricky encounter. The Spaniard will need to serve well against Thiem, who is a solid returner, and must try to find effective ways to deal with the Austrian’s raw power. Nadal should also look to try and dictate play though must be careful to not make too many errors (he can be prone to this now) and can’t afford to miss any opportunities like he did against Thiem in Buenos Aires.
One thing Thiem must do is get off to a faster start than he has in his past two matches; a slow start against a confident Nadal could cost him. The Austrian must serve well though should also look to attack Nadal’s forehand, which Aljaz Bedene stated in his press conference was no longer the Spaniard’s strongest shot. Thiem must try to use his power as well and should try to get Nadal moving around the court, though, like Nadal, must be careful to not make too many errors against an opponent who can take advantage of mistakes.
Head to Head
The head to head is evenly tied at 1-1, with Thiem edging Nadal in the previously mentioned meeting in Argentina earlier this season, and Nadal easing past the then-inexperienced Austrian at the French Open in 2014. Their most recent meeting is the strongest indicator of what this match could be like, with the two fairly even and slugging it out.
This will hopefully be an extremely high-quality match and it promises to be extremely tight. Thiem certainly has a good opportunity and many, including myself, did see the 12th seed coming through this section of the draw, though he hasn’t always been at his best in Monte Carlo and with Nadal playing fairly well, it seems experience could prevail over youth.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in three sets