The inspired Austrian Dominic Thiem ended Rafael Nadal's years-long hegemony in Barcelona after defeating him 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and four minutes Sunday.
Nadal, known as the King of Clay, lost to the 25-year-old Thiem for the fourth time on the crushed brick, after Buenos Aires, Rome, and Madrid. The motivated ATP No 5 became the second player after Novak Djokovic to secure four or more victories over Nadal on his favorite surface.
For the last 15 years, Rafael Nadal was the usual hegemon at the ATP 500 tournament in Barcelona. Reportedly, it is his most preferred event of the year. Since 2003, he conquered 11 titles from 14 appearances, winning 61 out of 64 matches, statistics say.
Moreover, Nadal had only lost one set in the semi-finals or beyond in 22 Barcelona games. It is also worth mentioning that he never dropped a set in the semi-finals before Thiem popped up on the professional tennis scene.
The clay season has not started well for the current No 2 in the world. During the past year, Nadal experienced many non-tennis related stops and ups and downs, as he admitted himself in a recent interview. It affected his form, and it is still challenging for him to find his rhythm and continuity. In addition to that, he went through knee surgery and is still recovering.
A week ago, he lost unexpectedly in the semi-final in Monte Carlo to eventual champion Fabio Fognini, without playing in the ATP Masters 1000 final for the first time in three years.
After the match with Fognini, Nadal admitted he had played one of his worst games on clay but remained positive about the future. Despite his loss in a second consecutive week, after the play with Thiem Nadal commented he was satisfied with himself. He pointed out he made some good improvements in his game this week that would help him achieve his short-term goals.
In the past three years, Thiem has proved himself as the best player on clay after Rafael Nadal, winning eight of his 12 trophies on the red surface. In March, he conquered his first Masters 1000 title - on hard court - at Indian Wells. Last year, he made it to the final of the 2018 French Open final, where he lost to Nadal.
Do you think that Nadal's hegemony on clay is near to an end?