Rafael Nadal faces familiar Grand Slam rival Dominic Thiem in Melbourne

Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) /

A battling win over Nick Kyrgios means Rafael Nadal will take on Dominic Thiem, a player he has faced regularly, in the Australian Open quarterfinals.

For the sixth time in a Grand Slam and fourth such occasion at a tennis major in the past 19 months, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem are poised to face off.

World number one Nadal secured his place in the Australian Open quarterfinals with a hard-earned 6-3 3-6 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4) victory over Nick Kyrgios, a match in which both players paid tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

That came after Thiem had swept aside Gael Monfils, one of the ATP Tour’s best hard court performers last year, winning 6-2 6-4 6-4 in under two hours.

Nadal and fifth seed Thiem will now play each other at the Australian Open for the first time, but by now they are familiar rivals.

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Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem in Grand Slams

The Rafael Nadal-Dominic Thiem rivalry has traditionally been highlighted by their clay-court battles, a surface which is the best for both stars.

They have met four times at Roland Garros, including in each of the last thee years.

Nadal eased past a young Thiem in 2014 and then had a similarly comfortable victory in the 2017 French Open semifinal.

In 2018 and 2019, Thiem was Nadal’s final opponent in Paris and although he lost both times, he took a set off the King of Clay in their most recent showpiece.

The only other major meeting came on a hard surface, Nadal losing the opening set 6-0 and needing five sets to narrowly beat Thiem in a dramatic US Open quarterfinal in 2018.

Overall record: Nadal and Thiem H2H

Those Grand Slam clashes give Nadal a 5-0 record against Thiem in majors, but the Austrian has enjoyed plenty of other success against the Spaniard over the years.

In non-Grand Slam events, the pair are even at 4-4, making the overall record 9-4 in Nadal’s favour.

Thiem earned famous straight sets wins over Nadal in his home country in their last two meetings outside of majors, seeing him off in Madrid and Barcelona.

Prior to Wednesday’s clash, the aforementioned US Open battle is their only one on a hard court.

Rafael Nadal bouncing back from ATP Cup

Rafael Nadal ended the ATP Cup looking vulnerable after a heavy defeat to Novak Djokovic capped a tournament where he had not seemed himself and struggled with the conditions in Australia.

He has recovered nicely so far in Melbourne, dropping only one set in reaching the last eight and delivering in the big moments as part of a good win over Kyrgios, one in which he looked the better player despite the close nature of the scoreline.

Nadal had 64 winners to just 27 unforced errors and won 147 points to the Australian’s 124, saying after the match he feels he is growing in confidence with every round.

He is seeking to end a poor record, by his standards, at the Australian Open, an event he has only won once back in 2009.

Dominic Thiem in need of hard court breakthrough

Dominic Thiem had an even worse experience at the ATP Cup, losing two out of three matches as Austria crashed out in the group stage.

While he has shown signs of life on a non-clay surface at the ATP Finals, he is awaiting a statement tournament at a hard-court major.

This is the first time he has made it to the last eight in Melbourne and he has only achieved that feat once in New York.

His Australian Open campaign has not been a vintage one, with Alex Bolt and Taylor Fritz giving him problems in the early rounds, but the impressive round-4 win over Monfils allows him to go into the meeting with Nadal feeling fresh and confident.

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An entertaining clash awaits on Rod Laver Arena, with one of Stan Wawrinka or Alexander Zverev set to be waiting for the winner in the semifinal.