Rafael Nadal remains on course to retain his Monte Carlo Masters title and won’t have Novak Djokovic standing in his way.
The top-ranked Nadal beat big-hitting Russian Karen Khachanov 6-3, 6-2 on Friday to reach the quarter-finals, clinching victory with a clinical smash at the net. The 10-time champion next faces fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem, who earlier won 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-3 against Djokovic.
Thiem can take confidence from having beaten Nadal twice on clay, including in the quarter-finals of last year’s Rome Masters.
“It’s a way better feeling if you go against him and know that you’ve beaten him already on this surface,” Thiem said. “It’s the ultimate challenge to play against him. I have to raise my level again.”
Djokovic was once Nadal’s nemesis, even on clay. He ended the Spanish player’s 46-match winning run by beating him in the 2013 final, and then won the tournament in 2015.
But the former top-ranked Serb, who has won 12 majors, is searching for form and confidence now.
A day after needing 10 match points to advance, Djokovic didn’t even come close to getting one. Although he says he is finally playing pain-free after two years of struggles with a persistent right elbow injury, he was often on the back foot against Thiem.
He saved one match point against Thiem, but indecision cost him on the second as the ninth-seeded Djokovic seemed to change his mind over which shot to play at the net.
Djokovic did save three set points in the first set, and the momentum carried over into the tiebreak. But his backhand let him down after that, with Thiem getting consecutive breaks and holding for the second set when his opponent patted a two-handed backhand into the net.v
Still, Thiem believes he will be back competing for big titles before too long.
“I think he’s on the rise again, for sure,” Thiem said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to see him at the very top of the game pretty soon.”
Nadal’s victory could have been even more efficient, but he surprisingly dropped his serve in the seventh game of the first set. He broke straight back and then took complete control.