Monte Carlo – Rafael Nadal crushed fifth seed Dominic Thiem 6-0, 6-2 to romp into the Monte Carlo Masters semi-finals on Friday as he stepped up his bid for an 11th title in style.
A tight match had been anticipated, but Nadal produced one of the most dominant wins of his career as Thiem fell to pieces in the Monaco sunshine.
The Austrian didn't get on the scoreboard until the 10th game, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
But it was a ruthless performance from the 16-time Grand Slam champion, who has to successfully defend the title this week to remain ahead of Roger Federer at the top of the world rankings.
"Here I think I played great… It has been a great day for me, and a very good result against a very difficult rival," said Nadal.
The Spaniard is now just two wins away from a record 31st Masters title, after winning 32 consecutive sets on clay.
Nadal will face Grigor Dimitrov in his 13th Monte Carlo semi-final on Saturday, but the Bulgarian will need a massive improvement from his win over David Goffin if he's to stand a chance of claiming a second career victory against the 10-time champion.
"It's difficult to play better than today," admitted Nadal.
"Being honest, I have to recognise that. But my goal is to rest and to try to wake up tomorrow again with the same energy and to go on court with the same mentality, try to play close to the way that I played today."
Nadal started as if he knew Thiem was a potential threat, holding to love before breaking the 24-year-old at the first time of asking.
Thiem was not serving at the same level he managed in his win over two-time champion Novak Djokovic on Thursday, and although he staved off five break points in game four, he dumped a forehand into the net to gift Nadal a 4-0 lead.
Thiem was struggling, but Nadal barely missed a shot in a near-perfect opening set that he wrapped up with another strong return.
It was the 12th time Nadal had whitewashed a set against a top-10 player, and he got the second set underway with another love hold.
Thiem was wilting in the sweltering conditions and under the pressure from the other side of the net, and then back-to-back miscued forehands saw him lose an eighth straight game.
The Austrian, a two-time French Open semi-finalist, finally held his serve to trail 3-1 and deny Nadal the first 6-0, 6-0 victory of his career on the ATP Tour.
The 31-year-old brought up match point with a searing forehand winner, and completed a 68-minute demolition as Thiem fired a backhand into the net.
Dimitrov benefitted from a second-set collapse by Goffin to reach the semi-finals for the first time with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) victory.
The 26-year-old Bulgarian got the better of a nervy Goffin in a repeat of last year's ATP Tour Finals final, coming back from 5-1 down in the second set to secure a match against Nadal.
"Yes, for sure he's the favourite. Yes, he has a great record. Yes, he's the best player on clay. That definitely doesn't discourage me," said the fourth seed.
Third seed Alexander Zverev celebrated his 21st birthday by edging a late-night thriller with French favourite Richard Gasquet 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.
The German won a marathon final set at 2100 local time to book a semi-final clash with Kei Nishikori.
Zverev is looking for a third Masters title after the disappointment of losing the final in Miami to John Isner earlier this month.
"It was the first time I have played on my birthday, so it's great to win and to be in the semi-finals," he said.
Nishikori overcame a blip at the end of the second set to see off second seed Marin Cilic and reach his first Masters semi-final since Canada in July 2016.
The Japanese only returned from a right wrist injury in January, but played one of his best matches this year to beat Cilic 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 6-3 in a rematch of the Croatian's 2014 US Open final victory.
Results from the Monte Carlo Masters on Friday (x denotes seeding):
Rafael Nadal (ESP x1) bt Dominic Thiem (AUT x5) 6-0, 6-2
Kei Nishikori (JPN) bt Marin Cilic (CRO x2) 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 6-3
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x4) bt David Goffin (BEL x6) 6-4, 7-6 (7/5)
Alexander Zverev (GER x3) bt Richard Gasquet (FRA) 4-6, 6-2, 7-5