Dominant on Clay, Rafael Nadal Hits a Bump Before the French Open

“Against him, if you’re up a set and a break, you never feel safe because he just doesn’t give you one easy point,” Thiem said.

He added: “He’s this kind of player who never gives up, probably the best fighter in tennis. Especially on clay it’s, for sure, one of the toughest things to beat him.”

Even before the clay-court season began, Nadal, 30, had reasserted himself as one of the best players in men’s tennis. After missing the fall European swing, a rested Nadal hit the hardcourts running at the start of 2017, reaching the finals of the Australian Open, Acapulco and Miami. He lost all three, two to the 35-year-old Roger Federer, who took an even longer break last season.

But Nadal, ranked fourth, steadily gained confidence and reaped results once the footing changed to his liking. With Federer sitting out the clay-court season, and No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic struggling, the power on the men’s tour has swung back to Nadal.

Still, he acknowledged that cumulative fatigue from his heavy workload might have played a role in the loss to Thiem.

“It’s not easy, no, after playing almost every day for the last four weeks, no?” Nadal said. “It’s normal that one day you don’t feel perfect, and if you are unlucky on that day that you don’t feel that well, the opponent plays unbelievable.

“So, then, tomorrow I will be in Majorca fishing or playing golf or doing another thing.”

Thiem raced out to a 5-1 lead in the first set, bludgeoning his forehand and one-handed backhand at every opportunity.

“I knew that if I want to have a chance, then I have to do something different and be more aggressive,” Thiem said. “I knew that if it goes in — everything — maybe I have a chance. If not, maybe I also lose easy. But today was one of these days where I really felt the ball great on the racket, and a lot…

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