French Open semifinal preview: Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem

The second semifinal of the Men’s singles at the French Open this year sees fourth seed Rafael Nadal take on sixth seed Dominic Thiem for a place in the final; Thiem will be aiming for his first ever Grand Slam final, whilst Nadal will be aiming for a staggering tenth final at this tournament.

Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal after the final in Madrid, which the Spaniard won 7-6, 6-4 (Getty/Julian Finney)
Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal after the final in Madrid, which the Spaniard won 7-6, 6-4 (Getty/Julian Finney)

This will be seventh meeting between the two and the fourth on clay this year alone. Nadal won both the finals they have played, in Barcelona and Madrid in straight sets, though Thiem won in straight sets in the Rome quarterfinals. All of their previous meetings have been on clay, and Thiem should make things a lot more difficult than he did at this tournament in 2014, where Nadal eased past the Austrian on his way to a ninth title in Paris.

This match is set to take place at 15:30 Paris time, and the winner will face either first seed and 2016 finalist Andy Murray, or third seed and 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka in the final on Sunday.

So far in Paris

There is a lot of expectation for this semifinal, and that has certainly been added to by the fact that both men have been extremely impressive in Paris so far.

Nadal was the huge favorite for the title coming into the tournament, and he backed that up early on with comfortable wins over Benoit Paire and Robin Haase in the first and second rounds respectively. He then recorded his best ever win at the French Open in terms of games lost, handing Nikoloz Basilashvili two bagels and a breadstick as he stormed into the second week. The fourth seed continued his impressive form with a dominant win over 17th seed Roberto Bautista Agut, conceding just five games, before his quarterfinal opponent, 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, was forced to retire a set and a break down. It has been virtually vintage Nadal so far, and he will be very confident heading into his toughest match so far.

Dominic Thiem celebrates after his impressive quarterfinal victory over Novak Djokovic (Getty/Aurelien Meunier)
Dominic Thiem celebrates after his impressive quarterfinal victory over Novak Djokovic (Getty/Aurelien Meunier)

Thiem has also been extremely impressive in making his second consecutive semifinal at Roland Garros. He saw off Bernard Tomic for the loss of just six games in the opening round and then continued to be fairly comfortable in seeing off qualifier Simone Bolelli and 25th seed Steve Johnson in the second and third rounds respectively to make the second week without dropping a set. He then cruised past Horacio Zeballos, conceding just five games to the Argentine, to make the last eight. It was this stage that he got one of the best wins of his career, reversing a 0-5 head to head against second seed Novak Djokovic to beat the Serbian in straight sets- including a third set bagel. Whilst he may not be the favorite heading into this clash, he will certainly fancy his chances.

Analysis

One of the most interesting aspects of this match could be the battle between arguably the two strongest shots on court; Nadal’s devastating forehand versus Thiem’s scintillating one-handed backhand. The Spaniard’s forehand is probably the slightly stronger of the two, and that could well be an advantage in terms of dictating play and bullying the Austrian around the court, though Thiem’s backhand is extremely strong in its own right, and will cause Nadal some severe issues if it is working correctly.

Rafael Nadal's forehand is one of biggest and best shots in Tennis (Getty/Aurelien Meunier)
Rafael Nadal's forehand is one of biggest and best shots in Tennis (Getty/Aurelien Meunier)

What could be the key to winning this encounter is consistency. Nadal’s only loss on clay this season was that loss to Thiem in Rome, and coupled with the fact that the Austrian also prevailed when the two faced off at the Rio Open last year, shows that the Spaniard could potentially be vulnerable here if he is slightly off his best; though that seems unlikely based on his form so far, the relatively large jump in terms of the quality of his opponent may cause some issues. However, it could also be an issue for Thiem. Though he has played well in all three of the matches he’s played against Nadal this year, he has lost two of them (which may give the fourth seed a slight psychological edge), and after his win over the Spaniard in Rome he suffered a complete let down in his semifinal clash, winning just one game against Djokovic; he absolutely cannot afford for the same thing to happen again following a huge win.

Assessment

This promises to be a high-quality encounter, and there will surely be many mesmerizing rallies that will enthrall the spectators on Court Philippe Chatrier. Thiem certainly has a shot to make his first Grand Slam final, though it seems that with his form so far, and with all his history on this surface and at this tournament, that Nadal should edge through and continue his quest for a tenth French Open title.

Prediction: Rafael Nadal in four sets

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