Alexander Zverev notched his first ever win over Rafael Nadal on clay to reach the Madrid Open semifinals.
Zverev, a Madrid champion in 2018, recovered from 4-2 down in the first set to beat the No.1 seed 6-4 6-4, a win setting up a meeting with Dominic Thiem – a rematch of their 2020 US Open final.
“It helped that I've beaten him the last few times that we played. Of course (that was) on hard court, which is very different,” Zverev said.
“To beat Rafa on a clay court in Spain, you have to play your best. I'm extremely happy to have done that.
“We'll see what the next few matches hold for me.”
Like Zverev, Thiem was forced to overcome a fast start from his opponent, ultimately surviving 44 winners against John Isner – including 18 aces – to triumph 3-6 6-3 6-4.
Thiem advances to the semifinals in the Spanish capital for the fourth straight time and will attempt to avenge his loss to Zverev in the 2018 Madrid final.
In other quarterfinal results on Friday, Matteo Berrettini and Casper Ruud continued their excellent form on clay and will now will go head-to-head for a place in their first ATP Masters 1000 final.
Ruud brushed Alexander Bublik aside 7-5 6-1 – the Norwegian is yet to drop a set in Madrid this year – while Berrettini overcame Cristian Garin 5-7 6-3 6-0.
An impressive quartet
The Madrid semifinals may not feature any members of the Big Three, or any player currently in the top seven of the ATP race, but the four players remaining boast excellent credentials.
Zverev’s victory over Nadal was his third straight against the Spaniard, with all three of those wins coming in straight sets. He has not lost to Nadal since the Rome final of 2018.
Thiem, playing his first event in almost two months after a year plagued by physical niggles and burnout, has bounced back exceptionally well to win three matches in Madrid – helping him through to his first semifinal of 2021.
“Pretty much I'm pleased with everything of my game,” Thiem said.
“Still many things to improve, getting 100 per cent back in the match rhythm, anticipation and everything.
“In general, I feel like I'm back on the right track. That what makes me pleased.”
Berrettini has now won seven straight clay-court matches, carrying on the form that saw him win the recent ATP title in Belgrade and improving his season win-loss record to 15-3.
And Ruud, who produced an absurd ratio of 19 winners to just four errors against Bublik, has advanced to his third consecutive Masters semfinal on clay, after reaching the same stage in Rome 2020 and Monte Carlo in March.
Ruud, the lowest-ranked player of the four semifinalists, is now 11-3 on clay in 2021, and will crack the top 20 on Monday.
Nadal: “I did a disaster”
World No.2 Nadal looked to be finding his best form on clay entering his quarterfinal against Zverev.
After a scratchy week of play in Monte Carlo which ended in a surprise quarterfinal loss to Andrey Rublev, Nadal rebounded to win the Barcelona title and had built a seven-match clay-court winning streak.
Despite coming within two points of a 5-2 lead in the opening set against Zverev, things unravelled from there, with Nadal going on to lose 10 of the next 14 games.
“I had the match under control at the beginning, playing well for six games, probably playing better than him. Then … I did a disaster,” admitted Nadal, who finished with just six winners for the entire match, compared with Zverev's 28.
“Playing against one of the best players of the world, under this circumstances, with this speed of the court, is very difficult to still (be) confident.
“So, yeah, I tried. But is true that the serve was difficult to control today.”
Nadal remains an overwhelming favourite at Roland Garros, where he will chase a jaw-dropping 14th title.