Rafael Nadal breaks John McEnroe's 34-year-old record

John Mc Enroe and Rafa Nadal

Rafael Nadal's 21-match unbeaten run on clay has come to an end thanks to a surprise defeat to Dominic Thiem at the Madrid Open.

Meanwhile, Thiem - who lost the Madrid final to Nadal past year - will face South African Kevin Anderson in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Nadal had won his last 50 sets on clay and not been beaten on the surface for 357 days, but was way below his best against the world No 7, who is a handful for anyone when he is in the mood.

Asked about Nadal's performance against Thiem, Àlex Corretja, a former captain of Spain's Davis Cup team who is now a television commentator, said, "It's clear nobody ends a record run by playing his best match, and I'm pretty sure Rafa won't count this as the day on which he was the most consistent and precise". "I had to go for shots and go down the line and everything worked today". "I think from Shanghai (last year) till Monte-Carlo, I hadn't finished a single tournament".

In the other semifinal, second-seeded German Alexander Zverev will be opposed by Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

"Of course I am disappointed", Nadal said.

Thiem will take on South African big man Kevin Anderson who finally broke his duck and made his first Masters semifinal.

The Players Championship leaderboard: Scores, highlights from Round 4 at TPC Sawgrass
He ended the front nine with a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-five ninth for a one-shot lead, and then he took off. I wanted to hit away from the pins unless I had a sand-wedge in my hand, and I did that well.

Federer will therefore move back to the top of the rankings, despite taking the clay-court season off, but of more effect is a performance from Thiem that suggests Nadal may have a genuine rival at the French Open.

"To be honest, I thought also myself that I was pretty far away before this week started".

"Five months without playing in a tournament means that I can not be No. 1. It was a mini goal accomplished for me".

"If he beats me three times in a row, maybe we can say he reads my game and can beat me".

"I think Novak, step by step, is going to be able to recover and be at the level he deserves". Zverev bested seventh-seeded American John Isner 6-4, 7-5, while Shapovalov battled past Great Britain's Kyle Edmund 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-4 in a match that took almost two and a half hours.

"I'm really happy with the way I played. That's what I'm working on", he added. "I feel like every time we play, we have a thriller match". Is not a drama that I lost the match, no? Past year I made it to the finals in every single tournament.

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