Early Present: Thiem Reaches Maiden Quarter-final In New York
One day shy of his 25th birthday, Dominic Thiem rewarded himself with an early gift on Sunday at the US Open. The ninth-seeded Austrian, appearing in the Round of 16 for the third time in four visits, hit 41 winners compared to 13 unforced errors to eliminate 2017 finalist Kevin Anderson 7-5, 6-2, 7-6(2) on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Having lost his opening six FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against the South African, Thiem has now won both his clashes against Anderson this year. The World No. 9 also defeated Anderson en route to his second straight Mutua Madrid Open final in May.
"I served really, really well today," said Thiem. "Not the best percentage, but I almost made every point in the first serve game. So I didn't face one break point, and I didn't feel so much pressure on service games.
"So it was a little bit easier to play the return games. I could change my return position, and this helped me a lot. And also the court, I think, made a big difference. It's a huge court. I could go very far back like I do on clay usually."
Thiem had never reached a Grand Slam quarter-final away from Roland Garros prior to beating Anderson in three sets. The Austrian was appearing in his sixth Grand Slam fourth round outside of Paris, having also reached the Round of 16 at the Australian Open (0-2) and Wimbledon (0-1).
"I was pretty close last year. It was very painful," said Thiem. "So I'm happy that I made it, and it was an amazing victory over one of the best players right now. Also [it is my] first time in the quarter-finals outside Paris, but most of all, I'm happy with the performance."
"We have already played ten times now, but was all the time on clay... It's going to be the first time on hard court which is a completely new experience... I'm really looking forward to playing him on a hard court for the first time," said Thiem. "On clay, I think it's one of the biggest challenges in sports to beat this guy or to compete with this guy. I hope that it's a little bit more comfortable on a hard court, but I'm not sure."
Following 10 consecutive service holds, Thiem stepped up his aggression on his forehand side to great effect at 5-5. The 24-year-old hit his targets, pushing Anderson back in the court before finding the lines to seal the first break.
After serving out the set to 30, Thiem continued to ride the momentum in the second set. The 10-time tour-level titlist won eight of the opening nine points to take a 2-0 lead before doubling his advantage with a second dominant return game to move 5-2 ahead.
Faced with the prospect of a third five-set match in four rounds, Anderson continued to fight throughout the third set. The South African saved the only break point of the set, at 3-3, en route to a crucial tie-break.
From there, Thiem, once again, controlled rallies on his forehand side. The Austrian hit with precision and power to take a 6/2 lead and converted his first match point with a delicate, chipped backhand to outfox Anderson at the net.
"I definitely felt he played a great match. He made life pretty difficult for me," said Anderson. "I thought he defended amazingly. I think a lot of success I have had in the past is I have been able to work points, find the right time to come forward. I still had a pretty good success rate coming forward today, but there were pockets where he had some unbelievable passing shots, made me hit another ball.
"That made things pretty tough... I didn't feel like I played poorly today. I think I did quite a few things well. Hat off to him. I thought he really stepped up. He was definitely the better player today."
Two-time Grand Slam finalist Anderson was bidding to reach his third US Open quarter-final in four years at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The World No. 5, who drops to 22-9 in Flushing Meadows, also reached the last eight in 2015 before his run to the final last year (l. to Nadal).
"I wanted to be here right till the end and put myself in contention of winning my first major," said Anderson. "It wasn't meant to be... I have to leave earlier than I wanted to. As always, I keep my head up, look objectively at all the matches I played, see where I can improve and get ready as quick as I can. Obviously [there are] still a lot of very big tournaments for us throughout the rest of the year. Still a lot of tennis to be played, a lot to play for."