BARCELONA.- Austria’s Dominic Thiem rolled to a 6-4, 6-4 win Saturday over Spanish great Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the Barcelona Open, a victory that shows his intent to capture a maiden Grand Slam title at next month’s French Open.
With the victory, Thiem became just the fourth player to defeat the «king of clay» at Barcelona after Spaniards Alex Corretja (2003) and Nicolas Almagro (2014) and Italy’s Fabio Fognini (2015).
The second-ranked Nadal started the match with two missed serves but still managed to grab a 1-0 lead; Thiem, however, snagged a service break in the fifth game thanks to another double fault by the Spanish player to seize the momentum.
Thiem then proceeded to hold serve for 4-2 and had four break points in the seventh game for a 5-2 lead.
Nadal somehow managed to avoid a second service break despite four double faults in the first set, but Thiem was much stronger on serve, not facing a single break point in wrapping up the first set after an hour of intense baseline battles.
Nadal also got off to an inauspicious start in the second set, although the Spaniard managed to fend off a pair of break points with forehand winners to hold serve.
Thiem, however, took total control of the match with a service break in the fifth game before holding serve for a 4-2 advantage.
He also had two break points in the next game, but Nadal showed all of his legendary fortitude to get out of that hole and stay within one service break of his opponent.
The Spaniard then had a golden opportunity when Thiem fell behind 0-40 when serving for the match in the 10th game of the second set.
But Thiem was too sharp and powerful on the day, winning five points in a row to claim the victory over the 11-time champion.
The fifth-ranked Thiem will next battle for the title on Sunday against 14th-ranked Russian Daniil Medvedev, who prevailed over seventh-ranked Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 earlier in the day.
The 25-year-old Thiem is one of several young players who have been unable to break through and win a Grand Slam title due to the continued dominance of the 32-year-old Nadal, 37-year-old Roger Federer and 31-year-old Novak Djokovic.
But Thiem, who lost to Nadal in last year’s French Open final in straight sets, looks poised for a breakthrough after defeating Federer in the Indian Wells final in March and scoring a convincing win Saturday over the 11-time Barcelona champ on his favorite surface.