Terrific Thiem sends Murray tumbling; sets up Nadal showdown

Andy Murray's struggles on the clay continued as Dominic Thiem booked a spot in the Barcelona Open final.

World number one Andy Murray   -  Getty Images

Dominic Thiem upset world No. 1 Andy Murray 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 to advance to a final against defending champion Rafael Nadal at the Barcelona Open on Saturday.

Nadal returned to the final by beating Horacio Zeballos of Argentina 6-3, 6-4 after Thiem dispatched with Murray at the Real Club de Tenis.

Murray’s defeat came a week after he exited the third round at Monte Carlo. That loss prompted Murray to enter Barcelona to whip up some form for the French Open following a right elbow injury.

Nadal, a nine-time champion on Barcelona’s clay, said he “wasn’t surprised” by Thiem’s first win over Murray in three attempts.

“Thiem is a specialist on clay, one of the best in the world,” Nadal said. “It will be a tough match for me, but I am just happy to be back in the final.”

Thiem started strong, breaking Murray’s first two service games before adding a third break en route to taking the first set.

The ninth-ranked Austrian had a break point in the second set, but Murray held serve and broke him back to even the match at a set apiece.

Murray was again in trouble at 4-2 down in the decisive set, and folded when he failed to successfully return Thiem’s deep lob on match point.

“He’s the No. 1 in the world, so you have to find something in between playing aggressive and not making mistakes,” Thiem said. “I was the luckiest in the end.”

Thiem will be seeking his second title of the year and to add to his eight career titles.

Nadal looked set to roll past Zeballos, but he had to save five break points in windy conditions to get the straight-sets win.

Nadal won his 10th Monte Carlo title last weekend. Sunday’s final will be his fifth of the season for the Spaniard as he primes his clay-court game for Roland Garros in a month.