MONTE CARLO • Rafael Nadal crushed fifth seed Dominic Thiem 6-0, 6-2 to romp into the Monte Carlo Masters semi-finals yesterday, as he stepped up his bid for an 11th title in the principality.
A tight match had been anticipated, but Nadal produced one of the most dominant wins of his career as Thiem fell to pieces in the Monaco sunshine.
The Austrian did not get on the scoreboard until the 10th game, drawing ironic cheers from the crowd. But it was a ruthless performance from 16-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, who has to retain the title this week to remain ahead of Roger Federer at the top of the world rankings.
"I think I played a great match, my best match of the tournament for sure and one of the best I've played on clay for a while," said Nadal, who has won 31 of his past 32 matches on clay.
"I played very aggressive, I knew I couldn't give Dominic time to hit the ball and I didn't."
He will face Grigor Dimitrov in the last four today, but the Bulgarian will need a massive improvement from his win over David Goffin if he is to stand a chance against the Spaniard.
Nadal started as if he knew Thiem - who beat him on his favourite surface in Rome last year - was a potential threat. He held to love before breaking the 24-year-old at the first time of asking.
Number of times Rafael Nadal has won a set by a 6-0 scoreline against a top-10 player.
Thiem was not serving at the same level he managed in his win over two-time champion Novak Djokovic on Thursday and, although he staved off five break points in the fourth game, he dumped a forehand into the net to give Nadal a 4-0 lead.
Thiem was struggling, but Nadal barely missed a shot in a near-perfect opening set that he wrapped up with another strong return.
It was the 12th time Nadal had whitewashed a set against a top-10 player, and he got the second set under way with another love hold.
Thiem was wilting in the sweltering conditions and under the pressure from the other side of the net, and then back-to-back miscued forehands saw him lose an eighth straight game.
The two-time French Open semi-finalist finally held his serve to trail 1-3 and deny Nadal the first 6-0, 6-0 victory of his career on the ATP Tour.
But the 31-year-old brought up match point with a searing forehand winner, and finished off his dispirited opponent as Thiem fired a backhand into the net.
Dimitrov benefited from a second-set collapse by Goffin to reach the semi-finals here for the first time with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) victory.
"I felt like I could have done things a bit better, especially at the beginning of the second set," said Bulgarian Dimitrov, who also got the better of his Belgian opponent in last year's ATP Tour Finals title decider. "Hopefully in my next match I can do better in those moments."
ATP MONTE CARLO MASTERS
S-finals: StarHub Ch201, 7pm