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Nadal sets up Wawrinka clash in Monte Carlo

Nadal sets up Wawrinka clash in Monte Carlo
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Eight-time champion Rafael Nadal dug deep on Thursday against Dominic Thiem at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, reaching the quarter-finals with a 7-5, 6-3 victory that was far from straightforward.

Thiem had beaten Nadal on clay two months ago in the Buenos Aires semi-finals and once again posed a big threat to the fifth-seeded Spaniard. The 22-year-old Austrian went up an early break, but relinquished it in the sixth game. Thiem was ultimately made to rue missing 15 of 16 break points in the 81-minute first set, which included a 15-minute, 50-second service game for Nadal at 4-4. The Mallorcan then broke Thiem in the 12th game to seal the opener.

Thiem responded well in the second set and again engineered an early break advantage, but Nadal immediately levelled in the fourth game and would break Thiem again in the eighth game before serving out victory in just over two hours.

Thiem, a five-time ATP World Tour titlist, drops to a 26-7 match record on the season. He was the form player on tour in February, capturing titles in Buenos Aires and Acapulco and reaching the semi-finals in Rio de Janeiro.

The 29-year-old Nadal sets a quarter-final clash with 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka, who raced past No. 15 seed Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-2 in 82 minutes. Wawrinka is now 17-4 on the year after saving seven of eight break points in the pair’s sixth meeting.

Afterwards, Wawrinka remarked it was his best match for a long time. “On my side it was an excellent match, a lot better than yesterday,” said the Swiss. “From the start I was very strict with myself. I had to keep my tactics, be patient, attack him whenever I had the opportunity. “My concentration was very good. This is important against Gilles. From the start I needed to dominate and be very present on the court. I succeeded in doing that.” Nadal has a 14-3 record against Wawrinka, but it was Wawrinka who won their last clay-court meeting, in the Rome quarter-finals last year. The Swiss captured his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown at the Monte-Carlo Country Club two years ago, beating Roger Federer in the final.

Nadal is looking to win his first title of the season this week, and claim a record-equalling 28th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown, which would be his first in almost two years, since lifting the trophy in Madrid 2014. 
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