Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem will meet on Saturday afternoon in the Barcelona semifinals. Yes, it’s only a 500, so when viewed through that lens, it isn’t that big a deal. The chances are decent that the two will meet once (not twice, but once) in either Madrid or Rome, so one shouldn’t feel certain that this Barcelona battle will be their last meeting before Roland Garros.
Whether you think Rafa and Thiem will meet again before Paris, this much is worth exploring: Is the simple reality of a meeting between the two significant? More precisely, is it important for Thiem to test his game against Nadal before June in France? Is it important for Nadal to gain the confidence beating Thiem might create?
Or… is this merely a very interesting matchup between two prime Roland Garros contenders, and nothing more? Is this simply a high-level clay confrontation which shouldn’t be viewed as an indicator of what might happen on Court Philippe Chatrier in a month and a half?
These are interesting questions, the kinds of questions sports fans in a pub — or on the online pub known as #TennisTwitter — will argue about from sunrise to sunset.
Saqib Ali and I discussed these tension points about the foremost Roland Garros contenders on a recent edition of the Tennis With An Accent Podcast. The show is roughly half an hour, so it represents just 30 minutes out of your tennis weekend. As you watch Nadal-Thiem or prepare for Nadal-Thiem — or, if you want, as you process Nadal-Thiem after the match is over — you might want to listen to the conversation Saqib and I had. You can file it away for Madrid and Rome and see if this conversation ages well.
It might not… but that is part of the intrigue and fun about sports. There is a plot twist waiting around every corner.