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By Chris Oddo | Friday May 19, 2017

If his first victory over Rafael Nadal in last year’s Buenos Aires semifinal was a shot across the bow, then Friday’s 6-4, 6-3 win by Dominic Theim at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome was a direct blast to the hull. Much like the furious groundstrokes that the Austrian unrelentingly smashed during the course of his one-hour and 51 minute victory over the Spaniard, this victory was a spirited, beastly display by one of the game’s rising clay-court stars.

Thiem was on top of most every ball, swinging away in his arms-and-legs-akimbo style and it left Nadal very little room to maneuver tactically in this match. The Austrian, 23 and ranked No.7 in the world, notched his second career victory over Nadal on clay (and overall), joining a select group of clay gurus.

His surge at the onset brought Thiem to a double-break 5-1 lead in the first set, and though Nadal never wavered and continued to chip away at the lead from that point, he was unable to secure a second break and dropped the opener, 6-4.

The second set was far more complicated but Thiem was player whose star shone brightest on the bigger points. He drew first blood for 4-3: moments after hitting a gorgeous pirouetting backhand winner, Thiem blasted a forehand crosscourt killshot that clipped the line for the break.

In the next game Thiem got out of hot water from 15-40 down, saving a total of three break points to hold for 5-3. He then broke Nadal's serve again to officially put an end to the Spaniard’s 17-match losing streak.

With his victory Thiem becomes the first Austrian to reach the semifinal at Rome since Thomas Muster won the title in 1996. Seven-time Rome champion Nadal slips to 36-6 on the season—and 17-1 on clay.

The Austrian will face either Novak Djokovic or Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals on Saturday. Saturday’s other semifinal will feature Alexander Zverev and John Isner.


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