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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, May 18, 2017

 
Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal dissected Jack Sock, 6-3, 6-4, scoring his 17th straight win and setting up a Rome quarterfinal rematch with Dominic Thiem.

Photo credit: Mutua Madrid Open

The balls bobbed up from the left and bounced up from the right. And every time Rafael Nadal responded another one seemed to emerge over his shoulder.

All that activity came after Nadal dissected Jack Sock, 6-3, 6-4, to roar into the Rome quarterfinals and extend his winning streak to 17 matches.

Watch: Del Potro Asks Umpire For Hug

Fans thrust balls in front of the fourth seed seeking autographs as the packed crowd, which included iconic Hall of Famer Rod Laver, showered the 30-year-old Spaniard with applause.



Nadal, who has spent his time making a historic mark on this clay-court season, scribbled his name on everything fans threw his way high-fiving a couple of kids on entrance and exit from the court.

The seven-time Rome champion is very much a man in demand. Nadal continues to answer the call with calm confidence raising his record to an ATP-best 36-5 while aiming for a historic clay-court championship sweep.

The nine-time Roland Garros champion is bidding to become the first man to win all three clay-court Masters crowns—Monte-Carlo, Madrid and Rome—as well as Barcelona and the French Open in the same season.

“I am happy with almost everything, no?” Nadal told the media in Rome. “I am playing well. I won a lot of matches this year, no?

“There is always things to improve, but is not the right time to say I'm not happy with one thing or another, no? I am happy with everything. But always there is the motivation to keep going and to keep improving something.”

During this 17-match streak, Nadal captured his 10th career titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and defeated Dominic Thiem in the Madrid final on Sunday collecting his fifth Mutua Madrid Open crown.

The fourth-seeded Spaniard will square off against Thiem again for a semifinal spot.

It’s their third clay-court clash of the season. Nadal swept Thiem, 6-4, 6-1, in the Barcelona final last month before saving a set point in grinding through a 7-6 (8), 6-4 in the Madrid title match—his fourth win in five matches with the seventh-ranked Austrian.

A defiant Thiem fought off three match points in the tie break edging Sam Querry, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7), in a bruising one hour, 55-minute slugfest. There were only two service breaks in the match that reinforced the Austrian’s appetite for the fight.

A week ago, Thiem denied five match points rallying past Grigor Dimitrov, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9) in a Madrid thriller.

“He's young, has a lot of talent,” Nadal said of Thiem last week. “The ball bounces high and it's difficult to control.”

The 13th-seeded Sock, like Nadal and Thiem, hits one of the heaviest forehands in the game. While Sock showed several flashes of his shot-making explosiveness today, Nadal’s penetrating depth and his ability to make the American counter from his weaker backhand wing were key components to his success. Nadal broke Sock in his opening service game for a 2-0 lead.

Clad in matching purple Nike shirts, the pair engaged in some bruising baseline exchanges.



Sliding into a backhand, Nadal showed his strength and ball control skills flicking an off-balance backhand pass crosscourt to hold for 3-0.

The former Wimbledon doubles champion displayed athleticism and explosiveness in the sixth game.

Launching himself above the court, Sock slammed an inside-out forehand winner then followed dripping a subtle drop volley winner holding for 2-4.

Transitioning from defense to offense superbly, Nadal curled a short-angled forehand crosscourt to open the court then cracked another crosscourt forehand for set point.

Elevating his shots to challenge Sock’s backhand with high, heavy topspin, Nadal banged out an error from the American sealing the set in 40 minutes, winning 14 of 16 first-serve points.

Though Nadal broke to start the second set, Sock struck back.

Running around his backhand, Sock lashed a forehand return down the middle then won the ensuing 14-shot rally when Nadal sailed a backhand. Sock pointed to his forehead, Stan Wawrinka-style, to celebrate the break.

Sock is not only a dangerous clay-court threat, he’s a damaging doubles player, too.

Deploying the serve-and-volley beautifully, Sock exploited the Spaniard’s deep return positioning with three superb serve-and-volley plays punctuated with drop volley winners. That hold put him ahead 2-1.



Pounding away from the baseline, Nadal scored his third break in as many opportunities for a 5-4 lead.

The 30-time Masters champion has won 33 of 35 sets he’s played during this 17-match tear and shows no signs of slowing down—during or after matches.


 

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