Rafael Nadal goes up a gear in search of 11th Monte Carlo title

Rafael Nadal has won 10 Monte Carlo titles and looks like he is about to add an 11th.
Updated 20 April 2018
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Rafael Nadal goes up a gear in search of 11th Monte Carlo title

  • Nadal looks back to his very best on the claycourts he loves.
  • Monte Carlo serves as great preparation for the French Open next month.

Rafael Nadal crushed fifth seed Dominic Thiem 6-0, 6-2 to romp into the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Friday as he stepped up his bid for an 11th title in the principality in style.
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 didn’t get on the scoreboard until the 10th game, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
But it was a ruthless performance from the 16-time Grand Slam champion, who has to successfully defend the title this week to remain ahead of Roger Federer at the top of the world rankings.
“Here I think I played great ... Have been a great day for me, and a very good result against a very difficult rival,” said Nadal.
The Spaniard is now just two wins away from a record 31st Masters title, after winning 32 consecutive sets on clay.
Nadal will face Grigor Dimitrov in his 13th Monte Carlo semifinal on Saturday, but the Bulgarian will need a massive improvement from his win over David Goffin if he’s to stand a chance of claiming a second career victory against the 10-time champion.
“It’s difficult to play better than today,” admitted Nadal.
“Being honest, I have to recognize that. But my goal is to rest and to try to wake up tomorrow again with the same energy and to go on court with the same mentality, try to play close to the way that I played today.”
Nadal started as if he knew Thiem was a potential threat, holding to love before breaking the 24-year-old at the first time of asking.
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 game four, he dumped a forehand into the net to gift 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 underway 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 Austrian, a two-time French Open semifinalist, finally held his serve to trail 3-1 and deny Nadal the first 6-0, 6-0 victory of his career on the ATP Tour.
The 31-year-old brought up match point with a searing forehand winner, and completed a 68-minute demolition as Thiem fired a backhand into the net.
Dimitrov benefitted from a second-set collapse by Goffin to reach the semifinals for the first time with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) victory.
The 26-year-old Bulgarian got the better of a nervy Goffin in a repeat of last year’s ATP Tour Finals final.
The pair will team up later on Friday in the doubles quarter-finals, but there was no charity on offer from Dimitrov toward his partner turned opponent.
Dimitrov has struggled on clay in the past and has never passed the French Open third round, but he was too strong for Goffin in the principality as he fought back from 5-1 down in the second set.
“Yes, for sure he’s the favorite. Yes, he has a great record. Yes, he’s the best player on clay. That definitely doesn’t discourage me,” said the fourth seed.
“That excites me to get out on Saturday and play my match, simple as that.”
Kei Nishikori overcame a blip at the end of the second set to see off second seed Marin Cilic and reach his first Masters semifinal since Canada in July 2016.
The Japanese only returned from a right wrist injury in January, but played one of his best matches this year to beat Cilic 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 6-3 in a rematch of the Croatian’s 2014 US Open final victory.
He will next face either Richard Gasquet or Alexander Zverev in the last four.


Saudi Arabia to face Japan in Asian Cup second round after defeat to Qatar

Updated 17 January 2019
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Saudi Arabia to face Japan in Asian Cup second round after defeat to Qatar

  • A double from Almoez Ali means Qatar top Group E.
  • Juan Antonio Pizzi's men now face Japan in second round on Monday.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia now know they will have to overcome Japan in the second round if they are to keep their hopes of a fourth Asian Cup title alive. 

A 2-0 defeat at the hands of Qatar meant Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men finished second in Group E — both sides went into the top-of-the-table clash knowing they had already secured a spot in the knockout stages. 

A brace from Almoez Ali in Abu Dhabi was enough to give Qatar the three points and leave them top of the group. 

From the kick-off the Green Falcons were the ones who looked the more likely to make the initial breakthrough —  Fahad Almuwallad slamming a right-foot shot against the post after 22 minutes.

Qatar captain Hasan Al-Haydos then missed a penalty in the 42nd minute after Ali had been clattered in the box.

But Ali, who scored four goals in Qatar's 6-0 rout of North Korea last weekend, made no mistake in first-half stoppage time.

He calmly slotted the ball past Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais to become the first player to score six goals in a single Asian Cup since South Korea's Lee Dong-gook in 2000.

Ali subsequently headed in a seventh goal of the tournament 10 minutes from time, celebrating with a jig of delight.

While the defeat was not ideal Green Falcons coach Pizzi said he was still hopeful Saudi Arabia would be able to go far in the tournament. 

"It was an intense game but we have to hide our feelings and prepare for the last 16," Pizzi said.

"We were missing quality in the final third and individual errors have cost us," he added.

"But we will bounce back. I respect every team left in the competition, including Japan, but I don't feel that we are inferior to them in any way."

Qatar, who have never gone beyond the quarterfinals, advance to face Iraq in the last 16.