Thiem ready to up level for "ultimate challenge" of Nadal

Rafael Nadal came out on top of his first game in Monte Carlo

Rafael Nadal came out on top of his first game in Monte Carlo

An incredible sequence then followed, as Djokovic created another four match points after deuce, all of which he squandered.

The crucial shot came at 3-3 on Djokovic's serve, when Thiem produced a stinging backhand down the line to break. "But I'm looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV and then playing the victor on Thursday". But the draw was a little bit unlucky for me, especially. But Thiem is one of a rare band of men who has claimed victories over the mighty clay champion: in 2016 in Buenos Aires, and a year ago in Rome-which was the only clay tournament of the five Nadal played that the Spaniard failed to win.

The momentum swung firmly in the direction of the 12-time Grand Slam champion after Thiem failed to serve out the set, and Djokovic proceeded to win the tiebreak 7-2. I understand that it's quite hard to play match after match on a very high level if I didn't have too many matches behind me, if I had an injury, if I had an absence from the Tour for six months.

To take some pressure off his fragile elbow, Djokovic is using a lighter racket.

"I was 10 centimetres from being out of the tournament".

"I know that I'm not 20 any more".

And Nadal wrapped up a straight-sets triumph with a ruthless smash on his first match point. Zverev was broken to love serving for the match at 5-2 and wasted a first match point when Struff served at 30- 40 in the next game.

Bautista Agut was given a code violation for accidentally hitting a ball boy with a ball after going 4-1 down in the second set, recovering to save two match points and winning four straight games to level at 5-5. He beat Nadal at the 2017 Rome Masters, but the Spaniard mastered him in Barcelona and in Madrid. It's not the first time I have to face in earlier rounds some top players.

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Djokovic is aiming to back at his best by the time the French Open comes around at the end of May. But the world #7 fought back to win in three 5-7 7-5 7-5. They are on course to meet in the quarterfinals, but Djokovic isn't getting ahead of himself.

Austrian fifth seed Dominic Thiem beat Novak Djokovic to set up a quarter-final against Nadal on Friday.

"After two years finally I can play without pain", said Djokovic.

"It's disrespectful towards Dominic and Dominic's tennis..."

No. 4 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria is also into the quarterfinals after ousting German Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

But Djokovic, though playing more confidently than he has in recent weeks, still looked unprepared for the physical challenge of facing Thiem - a hugely fit and strong opponent who had also eliminated him from last year's French Open.

Nishikori returned from injury in February, after a torn tendon in his right wrist ruled him out of last year's U.S. Open and this year's Australian Open.

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