Rafael Nadal shrugged off any suggestion of a French Open crisis of confidence, insisting he had enjoyed a “positive week” in Barcelona despite a dispiriting semi-final exit at a tournament he has won 11 times.
The Spanish great slumped to a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Dominic Thiem on Saturday, just a week after he had been dethroned as Monte Carlo Masters champion by Fabio Fognini, also at the semi-final stage.
Saturday’s win was Thiem’s fourth on clay over Nadal who had never previously lost in the semis at Barcelona.
With just four weeks to go until the start of Roland Garros, where he is the defending champion and an 11-time winner, 32-year-old Nadal says he has finally come to life on his favourite surface.
“It’s been a very positive week,” the 17-time Grand Slam winner said. “I came from a lot of low moments in Monte Carlo. Today was the first day I felt really confident on the clay, it’s my best match on the surface this year. My confidence is back thanks to this week. I really believe that I’ve made improvements. This is a good base to try and achieve my goals for the next couple of weeks.”
Austrian third seed Thiem, who was defeated by Nadal in the 2018 French Open final, saved three break points in the final game on Saturday to deliver his upset win.
However, he did not want to call the success his best ever on the dirt.
“For sure, this was one of my best wins on clay. It always requires an incredible performance to beat Rafa,” he said. “It’s his best surface, he’s the best to ever play on it but if it’s my best, I don’t know.”
Thiem advanced to a Sunday final against Daniil Medvedev, a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 winner over Japan’s Kei Nishikori, a two-time Barcelona champion.
“This win doesn’t feel different than my other ones against Rafa,” added Thiem who is only the second man after Novak Djokovic to have beaten Nadal on clay at least four times. “It’s always very special to beat him on clay or any other surface.”
Nadal was optimistic about his immediate future with Masters events in Madrid and Rome to come before the start of Roland Garros.
“I enjoyed the match, I’m feeling the way I want to feel about my game. I’m happy and I’m confident,” he said.