Since then though it has been one-way traffic for the Spaniard.
Given his past record in Rome - Nadal won seven titles from 2005 to 2013 - the 30-year-old Spaniard can look forward to a rousing reception from the notoriously noisy Rome crowd.
But on clay, nobody is able to match Nadal's success.
Nadal held his serve to love in the ensuing game to move ahead at 6-5, and Thiem drove on to the tiebreak despite his opponent's best efforts to avoid any need with a last-ditch break attempt.
The 30-year-old Nadal rode momentum to break in the first game of the second set, and Thiem fought to the end. He was broken three consecutive times in the first set, and once in the second to give Coric a 5-3 lead that the young Croatian converted to close out the match.
While Thiem will be hoping to add a second trophy to his name, the fact that he admitted before the start of the Madrid Open final that Nadal is the favourite might be a cause for concern for the Austrian but Thiem is still optimistic.
He's made the quarter-finals at the Foro Italico in each of the last two seasons with wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Leonardo Mayer, Sock and Tomas Berdych (the latter 6-0 6-0). He also beat Thiem in the Barcelona final in a much more lopsided contest. I'm expecting the best Djokovic tomorrow. Today maybe slightly I could have played better. He was defending it well. "I saved a few set points playing some good shots with my forehand and after that I went for it". I think I already had worse weeks in my life than this one', said Thiem.
Djokovic hasn't played in the semifinals of any event since winning the title in Doha at the beginning of the year. "Things can turn around quickly in tennis". Returning the ball is hard, especially when he hits it so high.
More of the same-two deuces, a break point, a double fault-came from Djokovic, who seemed to have no answers to his rival.
"After that, I calmed down".
The pair stayed neck and neck until Thiem lost his nerve and made two unforced errors in a row, gifting Nadal the set.
Meanwhile, Britain's Dan Evans fell to a straight-sets defeat by Jiri Vesely in the first round of the Italian Open.
"I was a little bit nervous, to be honest, before the match, because she has a big serve", Halep said. It's logical that after a hard week, I've been playing a lot of matches, a lot of hours out there on the court, I feel like it's (knee) sore, a little bit exhausted. These tournaments are so strong, so it's awesome for me to go that far.
"I'm very happy for what I achieved", Nadal said. Right now he wants to, and needs to focus on Rome before turning his thoughts to Paris.
Still, at around 5/2 I think he's still a decent shout to take out Murray and I couldn't be getting involved with the British star in the outrights.
"This is a very emotional period of the season".
Real Madrid great Raul and all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo were among those watching in the stands in the Caja Majica on a scorching day in the Spanish capital in as Madrid fan Nadal continued his rampant start to the year. That number does not include me and the Swiss should be taken on again. I try to compete. I did well in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and also here. "Hopefully I'll have another good result in Rome".
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