Thiem Tames Raonic To Reach Indian Wells Final
What a way to finish! Dominic Thiem punctuated a thrilling semi-final victory at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday with his 25th winner of the match, crashing the net to secure his spot in the Indian Wells championship.
If this match is any indication of the performance Thiem will have in store against Roger Federer on Sunday, fans will be in for a treat. Thiem booked his place in the title match with a highly-entertaining 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 6-4 victory over Milos Raonic in two hours and 31 minutes. Playing with great confidence from the back of the court, the seventh seed neutralised Raonic's mammoth game and was in the zone on his own serve.
For the third straight year, the Austrian will appear in the championship of an ATP Masters 1000 event. He is targeting his maiden moment of glory in the desert. Under the tutelage of former Top 10 Chilean star Nicolas Massu, Thiem is already benefitting from the newly formed partnership. Following final defeats on the clay of the Mutua Madrid Open in both 2017 and 2018, the 25-year-old will be hoping the third time is the charm on the Masters 1000 stage.
"It's always something special to play Roger and also something special to compete in Masters 1000 finals," said Thiem. "It's only my third one. I have pretty bad stats in the finals, so I know it's going to be very tough, but at the same time, I will give everything to hopefully win my first title."
With actor Ben Stiller looking on, Thiem turned in an efficient serving performance behind 77 per cent points won. He denied the lone break point faced, which came with him serving for the match at 5-4 in the decider. The Austrian captured his first victory in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, with Raonic previously prevailing at the 2016 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and the Nitto ATP Finals later that year.
The first set saw Thiem fire 10 winners and zero unforced errors, while winning 93 per cent of first-serve points. The 25-year-old eventually took the opener in a tie-break, lacing a backhand winner down-the-line to take a commanding 5/1 lead.
Both players turned in dominant serving displays throughout the afternoon on Stadium 1. Just one break point was earned through the first two sets, with Raonic facing 30/40 at 2-1 in the second. It was promptly dismissed by the Canadian and he would stay the course in forcing yet another tie-break. There, he earned a fortuitous bounce as a backhand clipped the tape and dribbled over for a 5/3 edge. And two points later, Raonic would force a decider.
Thiem was dialed-in as the match entered its final frame, securing the first break of the encounter for 3-2. And as Raonic pressed to break back, a sublime drop shot winner restored Thiem's command and he would deny a break point when serving for the match at 5-4 30/40. A volley winner sealed the victory after two-and-a-half hours.
"I knew it's gonna be tough," Thiem added. "His serve is unreal. I knew that there was going to be probably a tie-break. I played really well the whole match, basically. I didn't make a lot of unforced errors. And I had a very good first-serve percentage. That was great.
"In general, it was a very good match because the only break point I had to save was in the last game, and that was what I wanted to do, to play my service games well and not give him too many chances."
Perhaps the most glaring stat of the match was forehand unforced errors, with Raonic striking 23 and Thiem just four. Despite the defeat, the Canadian will hold his head high after another impressive week in Indian Wells. It marked the fourth straight semi-final appearance for the 2016 runner-up. Also a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open in January, the World No. 14 is pushing towards a Top 10 return in the ATP Rankings.
"There were definitely some things I would have liked to do better, but I thought I competed and I tried to figure things out as best as I could," said Raonic. "It's the way it goes. He played well. He did the smart things and he did the things better at the end.
"He was pushing me back. He wasn't missing many first serves. Then he was aggressive from the very first ball. There wasn't many times that I got to be on the offensive on the return games and when I did, I wasn't efficient about taking advantage of it."
In Sunday's championship, Thiem will face Federer for the fifth time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. Split at two wins apiece, the budding rivalry saw Federer most recently triumph at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals after Thiem won back-to-back encounters in 2016 - on the clay of Rome and grass of Stuttgart.
While Federer is bidding for his 101st tour-level crown, 28th at the ATP Masters 1000 level and a record sixth in Indian Wells, Thiem is vying for his first taste of Masters 1000 glory and first title on outdoor hard courts since Acapulco 2016. He owns an 11-7 record in tour-level finals.