At the time of writing these lines still remain 11 matches to be played in the tournament of Monte Carlo, but it will be difficult that other match exceeds in quality and excitement the first set that Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem have disputed today on the court Rainier III of the Country Club where the Spaniard, after a great battle, has finally won 7-5 6-3 to advance to the quarters of the Monte Carlo Masters 1000.
The Austrian showed up willing to replicate his recent victory in Buenos Aires. The plan was clear, keeps hitting as much as possible on the Nadal´s backhand, cornered him in the right side of the court to, at the appropriate time, place the winner to the other side or finish the point at the volley. The tactic worked perfectly; with deep and heavy shots Thiem dominated the pace of the match and kept Rafa faraway of the baseline. The prize came early; he got a break in the third game.
But Rafa is a rock. Maybe time has worn something his edges, but he is still a wall. He is always there, waiting for the right moment, alert to the minimum hesitation of his rival. In the sixth game, Thiem lowered the level of his game and Nadal took advantage of the circumstances to balance the match.
Then the firestorm Thiem exploded. The Austrian restrained Nadal with all kinds of hits: incredible passing shots, improbable angles, he caught Nadal off balance several times… a very complete and high quality tennis so the only thing Nadal could do was defend the best he knew. Up to 12 break points managed Thiem between the games seventh, ninth and eleventh – for a total of 16 in the set- result of his aggressive tennis. Then the inexperience of Thiem took a leading role in the form of nerves and precipitation and the Austrian could not take advantage of his multiple chances.
So, with 6-5 and Thiem serving for the tie-break, the pressure switched side. The Austrian, who thought he would win the set, was not adapted to the new situation and Nadal, masterful managing every moment of the match, did not miss the opportunity to win 7-5.
With both players seriously punished by the effort, the second set was another story. Thiem, accusing the psychological blow, lost the patience and he began to play much more direct. This is a mortal sin on clay courts and especially against Rafa Nadal. Given the quality that he possesses he got amazing winners and he even broke Nadal´s service – this time at the first opportunity – in the third game.
But tennis is a game of percentages and Thiem could not go very far with that strategy. He lost his advantage in the fourth game and his game was deflating gradually while the ball of Nadal, full of confidence, was getting faster and heavier. Thiem hold on until 3-3 and since then he could not win another game.
Nadal showed once again his mastery on clay, patient, expert, without never despair and knowing that, at the end always comes his chance in spite of the level of the rival. He is still the king of clay because nobody read the game and handles the difficult moments as well as him. Facing, Thiem, the Prince, a player enormously talented who has a great future and he will be soon a candidate to win Roland Garros, he only needs a bit of maturing. The clay of Monte Carlo today welcomed its purest dynasty but succession will have to wait.