If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Dominic Thiem stuck to his aggressive game plan against Rafael Nadal to beat the 11-time Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell champion 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday and reach the ATP 500 final.
It’s the fourth time in as many years Thiem has beaten Nadal on clay, and the first time Nadal has lost in the semi-finals or finals of his home tournament. The Spaniard had been 22-0 in matches and 46-1 in sets during Barcelona semi-finals and finals.
But Thiem, who was the only player to beat Nadal on clay in 2017 and 2018, played fearlessly once more against the top seed, pinning the Spaniard behind the baseline and pounding inside-out forehands. He joined Novak Djokovic as the only players to have beaten Nadal on clay four times.
The 2017 finalist (l. to Nadal) will face Russian Daniil Medvedev with his third ATP 500 title on the line (2016 Acapulco, 2017 Rio). Medvedev beat No. 7 Kei Nishikori 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 to make his first clay-court final.
The 23-year-old leads the ATP Tour with 25 wins, including eight on clay (8-1). Before last week’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Medvedev was 2-11 on the red dirt.
Thiem started quickly, breaking when Nadal tossed in a loose service game at 2-2. Nadal double faulted twice, including at 30/40.
Incoming: Thiem ?
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Thiem had four more break points as Nadal served at 2-4, but the Spaniard saved them all during a 14-minute game. But as the Spanish fans smelled a comeback, Thiem avoided any slump and held to take the opener.
The Austrian was in attack mode all match, delivering deep, heavy balls to Nadal, who struggled to take control in baseline rallies. And at the net, Thiem was happy to put the point away.
Thiem broke once more in the second and dug himself out of trouble at 4-3, 15/30, and again while serving for the set at 5-4, 0/40. Thiem hadn’t faced a break point all match until the final game, but saved all three, including the third with an ace.