Rivalries Of 2016: Thiem vs. Zverev
The future superstars of the ATP World Tour made their presence known with significant statements in 2016. Players aged 19-23 accounted for 11 titles in total and two of them wasted no time in kicking off a budding rivalry.
Longtime sporting adversaries Austria and Germany added Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev to the fray, with the pair meeting on four occasions this year. Each encounter proved to be an intense clash of exuberance and shotmaking, as 23-year-old Thiem and 19-year-old Zverev contested a trio of three-set clashes on the ATP World Tour, in addition to a four-set battle at Roland Garros.
With three meetings in a mere five-week span during the European clay-court swing, Thiem and Zverev got acquainted early and often this year. The Austrian would take all three encounters, prevailing in the Munich semi-finals, Nice final and Roland Garros third round, but it was far from straightforward.
Thiem rallied from a set down, saving eight of 11 break points for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win in Munich and was pushed the distance in retaining the Nice title. It was the first career final for #NextGen star Zverev, who fell to the reigning champ 6-4, 3-6, 6-0. With a combined age of 41, it represented the youngest final on the ATP World Tour this year.
"Against a player like Dominic, who is one of the best clay-court players right now, you have to be at your best to beat him," said Zverev. "There's not a lot of chances."
With Thiem hurtling towards the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings and Zverev rapidly ascending to the Top 20, the pair carried the momentum from the Nice final into Roland Garros for the second Grand Slam of the year. Both would enjoy their best major results and a third round encounter brought their growing rivalry to one of the biggest stages in the game. Court Suzanne-Lenglen welcomed Thiem and Zverev, with a Round of 16 berth at stake, and they did not disappoint the French faithful.
Like he did in Munich, Thiem was forced to battle back from an early deficit. He missed six break chances late in the first set as Zverev went on to snatch the opener and grab a quick break in the second. But Thiem struck back, reeling off five straight games and eventually putting the match out of reach with a 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory after nearly three hours.
"I knew already before the match that it was going to be a very tough one against such a great player like Sascha," said Thiem. "I think the little difference today was probably the three years' age difference."
The pair would wait five months before capping their season series with a first-round meeting at the ATP World Tour 500 event in Beijing. Fresh off claiming his first tour-level trophy at the St. Petersburg Open, stunning Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka in the semis and final, Zverev scored his third Top 10 win in four days with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 win over Thiem.
With both players continuing to plot their ascent up the Emirates ATP Rankings, look for many more encounters in the years to come.
View FedEx ATP Head2Head (Thiem Leads 3-1)
Thiem vs. Zverev: 2016 Meetings
||Hard||1R||Zverev|| 4-6, 6-1, 6-3
| Roland Garros
||Clay||3R||Thiem|| 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-3
|Nice||Clay||F||Thiem|| 6-4, 3-6, 6-0
|Munich||Clay||SF||Thiem|| 4-6, 6-2, 6-3