Roland Garros Semi Final Preview Rafa Nadal Versus Dominic Thiem

Roland Garros Thiem Nadal

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Rafa Nadal (4) versus Dominic Thiem (6) in the Roland Garros semis might be a little too early in the 2017 Roland Garros tale for some, but the stage might just be the right one to deliver the match clay court tennis fans deserve.

Tennis fans do not always get what they deserve at the business end of slams- they follow the long clay lead in, for example, week in week out, only for their favorites to have peaked too soon and exit in the first round, failing to meet their seed in the draw and depriving us of top draw matches- but at this year’s Roland Garros tennis fans will get what is coming to them in the semi-finals when Rafa Nadal, the Monte Carlo, Madrid and Barcelona champion meets Dominic Thiem, the Barcelona and Madrid finalist, and the only player to beat Nadal in the European clay court swing.

For some, the Nadal-Thiem Roland Garros semi-final will be a match too soon, the main narrative of the 2017 clay court season story wrapped up too early, the final act, the championship match reduced to a denouement. For others, though, the semi final might be the perfect place to wrap up the Nadal-Thiem story this clay season, the final perhaps too nervy an occasion for Thiem, who is yet to explore that stage of his potential, leaving the semi-final, where the sixth seed, the 2016 semi-finalist, is more comfortable, a setting more likely, perhaps, to do their 2017 clay court rivalry justice.

In their six career meetings so far, Nadal and Thiem have only ever met on clay, (Nadal leads 4-2). Before their match in Barcelona this year, Nadal led the head to head 2-1, winning at Roland Garros ’14 and Monte Carlo ’16 and losing at Buenos Aires ’16. This season, Nadal pulled ahead in the head to head, winning the Barcelona final 6-4, 6-1, and the Madrid final 7-6 (8), 6-4, a far more closely contested affair, Thiem learning from the Barcelona loss and exploiting the faster conditions, but in Rome, Thiem cut the head to head deficit, everything coming together for the youngest member of the top ten, the Austrian defeating Nadal 6-4, 6-3 in a two hour contest.

Their upcoming Roland Garros will see an even further improved Thiem, the sixth seed reaching the last eight without dropping a set and scoring his first win over Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, in the quarter-finals, and not just any old win, but one with a  7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-0 scoreline, the Austrian breaking down Novak’s game and his spirit in about as calm, brutally effective and clinical a style as it gets in pro tennis, showcasing a killer instinct becoming of a highly touted future Roland Garros champion.

Nadal knows a thing or two about the killer instinct. The nine time champion, aiming for a historic La Decima, has cruised through the draw, one of his most dominant ever processions, dropping just 16 games in the first four rounds, and getting into the semis courtesy of his opponent Pablo Carreno-Busta retiring trailing 2-6, 0-2.

Thiem goes into the semis on the top of his game, on the back of a career best win, while Nadal may find his rhythm a little off due to how his quarter-final panned out, and Thiem, who will need every advantage he can get, will have to exploit that, starting where he left off, and not allowing Nadal to break away, the Spaniard proving to be a formidable front runner this event, and Thiem in danger of being swept away, the pressure overwhelming him, not just forcing him into error, but setting off the unforced errors that can plague the Austrian when he is feeling tight.

Thiem can at least, if that happens, take refuge in the five set format, and the motivation to do better in his second slam final than he did in his first in which he just won seven games. Thiem, one of the best students there is in the pro game, is sure to improve on that showing, his powerful serve and strokes of a class high enough to earn him a set, if not two.

To win the match might be out of Thiem’s reach, the task of playing his best tennis for three sets versus one of the greatest clay courters in some of his best ever clay form a tough ask for someone who has never delivered a similar performance in similar circumstances, but Thiem should not be underestimated due to his inexperience, the sixth seed proving he deserves his role as one of the central characters in the 2017 clay court tale, and if anyone is going to bring about a thrilling twist a chapter too early at Roland Garros, Thiem is as good as, if not better than, anyone to execute.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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