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 Roger Federer will reclaim the number one 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. Despite the defeat, Nadal will still be favourite to win the French Open for a record-extending 11th time next month.
In the Madrid semi-finals on Saturday, Thiem faces big-serving South African Kevin Anderson, who has beaten the Austrian in their last six encounters. Sixth seed Anderson, who was runner-up at last year’s U.S. Open, beat Serb Dusan Lajovic 7-6(3) 3-6 6-3 earlier on Friday.