Rafael Nadal is set to lose his World No.1 ranking after a shock straight-sets loss in the Madrid Open quarter-finals.
Nadal suffered a 7-5 6-3 defeat to Austrian Dominic Thiem on Friday, a result that means the Spaniard will surrender the No.1 ranking to Roger Federer.
Thiem, who lost to Nadal in the Monte Carlo quarter-finals last month, was the last player to beat the Spaniard on clay – at last year’s Rome Masters.
Nadal had set a record of winning 50 consecutive sets on a single surface by beating Argentine Diego Schwartzman on Thursday.
Nadal’s exit means Federer will reclaim the No.1 spot when the revised ATP rankings are released on Monday.
Thiem stuck to the baseline and took his groundstrokes early to unsettle Nadal, who was unusually below par in the opening set on his favourite surface, making several unforced errors.
Although the 24-year-old Austrian failed to convert a set point in the ninth game, he pounced at the second time of asking to seal the first set with an ace.
A couple of mistimed forehands from Nadal handed Thiem an early 3-1 advantage in the second set but the defending champion fought back to draw level after six games.
But Thiem was not to be denied and won 10 of the next 11 points to snuff out any chance of a Nadal comeback, sealing victory with a powerful cross-court winner in under two hours.
“I haven’t been good enough today,” Nadal told reporters. “He was better than me today. That’s the end of the story.
“Some days you don’t play as good as you would like to play. Also when that happens it’s because your opponent is doing really well.”
The result means that fifth-seed Thiem becomes only the third player – after Argentine Gaston Gaudio and Serb Novak Djokovic – to beat Nadal on clay on three occasions.
“I had to really increase my level compared to Monte Carlo to beat Rafa here,” Thiem said.
“He won 21 matches on clay and 50 sets. So I had to play an extraordinary match, and that’s what I did.
“I think a very important thing also was today that I went in with the attitude that I can beat him.”
Despite the defeat, Nadal will still be favourite to win the French Open for a record-extending 11th time next month.