Quarterfinal action took center stage Friday at the 2016 Argentina Open in Buenos Aires. The ATP World Tour 250 Series event represents an opportunity for players to begin early preparations for the French Open, the season's second Grand Slam and the only major contested on a clay surface.
Reigning champion Rafael Nadal received a solid test from journeyman Paolo Lorenzi. Although he managed to advance in straight sets, 7-6 (3), 6-2, his overall form is still below the level that's allowed him to capture 14 Grand Slam titles, including nine at Roland Garros.
Let's check out the complete set of matches scheduled for Friday, which will be updated through the end of play. That's followed by a review of some top storylines heading into the semifinals.
Quarterfinal Schedule and Results
|Quarterfinals||(5) Dominic Thiem vs. Dusan Lajovic||Thiem: 6-4, 6-2|
|Quarterfinals||(1) Rafael Nadal vs. Paolo Lorenzi||Nadal: 7-6, 6-2|
|Quarterfinals||(3) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Nicolas Almagro||Almagro: 6-2, 7-5|
|Quarterfinals||(2) David Ferrer vs. (8) Pablo Cuevas||Suspended|
Day 7 Recap
Dominic Thiem continued to improve his prospects on clay courts as he dismantled Dusan Lajovic, his doubles partner in the event, in a pair of routine sets, 6-4, 6-2. It marked his best showing of the tournament so far after a couple of hard-fought battles with Pablo Carreno Busta and Gastao Elias.
He put together a particularly impressive effort in return games against Lajovic. Thiem won 43 percent of the points when returning Lajovic's serves, including a terrific 42 percent clip on the Serbian's first serve, according to the tour's official website. Those defensive inroads are crucial to success on clay.
The tournament highlighted match point as well as the Austrian's subdued celebration after beating a player he's also competed with this week:
Lorenzi managed to keep Nadal on the ropes for the entirety of the first set. The savvy veteran kept the clay-court master off-balance for much of the set as they battled in hot conditions. With that said, the Spanish superstar wasn't playing his best tennis, either.
Nadal started to come alive in the second set to advance without any further drama. Much like it's been since the start of last season, there are still flashes of the player who used to win clay events without even getting challenged, but maintaining that level of play has been an issue.
Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine provided his thoughts on the match:
Rafa fans rejoice: for at least one afternoon, the Nadal moneymakers - inside-out and DL FHs - are back in business...— Howard Bryant (@hbryant42) February 12, 2016
"My mission is make them play with difficult positions," Nadal said. "So if they want to go for [a] lot of winners with very difficult positions, the chance of having success is not very high."
Thiem should provide a great litmus test in the semifinals. It will mark just the second meeting between the pair. Nadal won the first in the French Open two years ago in straight sets, but the 22-year-old rising star has improved since then.
Given both players' ability to defend, it wouldn't be a surprise to see several breaks in each set as part of a match that goes the distance. Nadal is going to need a more well-rounded performance to punch his ticket to the final for a chance to defend his title.
Unranked Nico Almagro shocked No. 3 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-2, 7-5, to take the third spot in the semifinals. Entering the match, Almagro was 0-6 against Tsonga.
The finale between David Ferrer and Pablo Cuevas was suspended with Ferrer leading 4-2 in the first set.