Spaniard Rafael Nadal's imperious form on clay came to a shuddering halt when he was stunned in straight sets by Dominic Thiem, in the quarter-finals of the Italian Masters in Rome.
Austrian Thiem had pushed Nadal hard in the final of Madrid last week, and went one better by playing at a consistently high level to record a 6-4 6-3 win over the favourite. A break of serve in each set was enough for the right-hander, who pulled off some, at times, brilliant shots. One backhand winner from the back of the court with Nadal at the net was especially memorable.
Nadal was enjoying a 17-match winning streak on clay, winning the tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid and is many pundits' favourite for the only grand slam event on clay, the French Open, which starts on 28 May. He thrashed Thiem in the final of Barcelona for the loss of just five games, then the Austrian managed to take the Spaniard to a tie-break in the Madrid final last week. Nadal also had won the title in Rome seven times.
The 14-time men's singles grand slam champion previously stated that a lower ranking will not hamper him in his quest for a 10th Roland Garros title.
The 23-year-old Thiem, meanwhile, becomes the first Austrian to reach the semis in Rome since 1996 when Thomas Muster, who briefly enjoyed the same dominance on clay as Nadal, won the title. It also leaves Novak Djokovic as the only previous winner of the tournament left in.
In another blow for the young generation of players, 20-year-old Alexander Zverev beat Milos Raonic in straight sets to set up a semi-final against John Isner.
In the women's tournament Simona Halep continued her good run on clay as she booked a spot in the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over qualifier Anett Kontaveit.
Halep, who successfully defended her Madrid Open title, is shaping up to be the one to beat in Roland Garros.